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by Deon Meyer and K L Seegers, trans.
Random House Canada, April 2010
416 pages
$29.95 CAD
ISBN: 0307356647

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Up until now, Deon Meyer has not so much written a series as brought different members of his recurrent cast forward to carry the action. But this time, THIRTEEN HOURS is quite close to being a sequel to the excellent DEVIL'S PEAK in the sense that Benny Griessel's personal issues are elaborated and to some degree resolved. Readers of the earlier novel will recall that Griessel was striving mightily with that occupational hazard of policing, alcoholism. In the present book, he has dried out, been triumphantly sober for six months (his wife's demand, before she would consider taking him back) and has even been promoted to Captain.

Now he is at the centre of a tense police operation to rescue a young American tourist, Rachel Anderson, who is fleeing for her life having seen her travelling companion, another young American girl, brutally murdered. All the young woman can think to do is to run, literally on foot, especially since she believes she has heard that the cops are implicated in the murder.

And that's but one of the complications. In this most urban of the Meyer novels I have read, the focus is less on the spectacularly beautiful natural scene than on the strains of life in Cape Town, where the stresses of a society still struggling to transcend its past and define its future are evident in the police as in the larger society. Griessel, an Afrikaner, has been appointed "mentor" to the new members of the Provincial Task Force, comprised of an ethnically and racially balanced group that eyes one another with some distrust stemming from the troubled history of their country. Among them is Mbali Kaleni, a fat, KFC-addicted woman inspector who is both dogged and clever in her pursuit of the criminals and very touching.

If attempting the rescue of an American tourist with its attendant political pressure were not enough, Adam Barnard, a prominent record producer, has been murdered and his boozy wife is under suspicion. Dealing with both these high-profile crimes would be difficult enough, but trying to do it with an inexperienced and somewhat testy murder squad makes the task almost impossible.

Meyer brilliantly juggles all of the thematic balls, while maintaining an unrelenting sense of suspense. We do not know till the end who is after Rachel and why they want to kill her. We do not even know if she is implicated in some crime or wholly innocent. What we do know is that we want her to get away.

If I have any reservation about the book, it is a minor one - the author tells me rather more than I really want to know about the South African music business. But of course, music, like alcohol and failing marriages, seems to be an inescapable component of the contemporary police procedural.

This is not, strictly speaking, a political novel, but we live in a political world, none more so than South Africa today and those currents seep into the book, as indeed they should. This might be a very good choice to take on the plane to Cape Town, if you happen to be fortunate enough to be attending the World Cup next month, as it will provide some insight into what may be going on beyond the pitch.

THIRTEEN HOURS is splendidly, seamlessly translated from the Afrikaans by KL Seegers. If only all crime fiction translations approached her standard!

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, May 2010

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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