Translated by K. l. Seegers.
BLOOD SAFARI, originally written in Afrikaans, is an excellent thriller which held me completely entranced from the moment I opened it and read the first page. I'm a sucker for many of its themes, not least the damaged loner protagonist Lemmer, an ex-con now working as a bodyguard for a company called Body Armour, owned and run by Jeanette Louw, one of the most original owners of a security company I've come across in my reading travels.
Lemmer is renovating his house in a small, neighbourly town of Loxton, South Africa. He's knocking down a wall on Christmas day when Jeanette phones him to offer him a job as bodyguard to rich “brand consultant” Emma le Roux. Emma's house was broken into and she was attacked by three armed, masked men a few days previously, barely escaping with her life. She's staying with a rich benefactor-type, Carel van Zyl, an arrogant Afrikaaner whom, naturally, Lemmer instantly dislikes. Emma, however, seems nice enough and tells Lemmer how the break-in occurred just after she had seen a photograph of a wanted man on TV. Emma had phoned the local police because the man reminded her of her brother, who vanished many years previously. She misses her brother desperately so needed to find out if the wanted man is him. Because she got no information from the police, Emma decides to go to Safari country and find out for herself whether her brother could be still alive and, if so, involved in a crime.
Lemmer accompanies Emma on her quest, although he's sceptical of her honesty. Emma at first tries to draw him into the investigative project, but he will have none of it, telling Emma he is only a bodyguard not a detective. Despite finding difficulties at every turn, Emma pursues her goal doggedly, earning Lemmer's respect as the days go by. Soon after Emma unearths a few leads, however, the couple are violently attacked.
This novel has a great combination of strengths. It's a great story, excitingly told. Lemmer is an intriguing mix of tough-guy and emotional vulnerability. As events spin out, he comes to realise how much his own perceptions and rush to judge Emma and others that he's met during the course of the novel have coloured his actions and led him down the wrong paths.
At the same time, there are lots of back-stories woven throughout the plot. Some of these are highly successful, notably Lemmer's own story and that of the man who might be Emma's brother, a history only revealed towards the end of the novel when we find out what really happened when he disappeared. Slightly less successful are some of the environmental sections, which read too much like lectures to sit well as part of a piece of fiction. However, the author's love of the country, the people, the land and its natural wildlife are totally sincere and provide a moral heart to the thrills and excitement filling the book.
This is a detective story/thriller that really delivers: an extremely well-constructed, intelligent plot; a committed political and social stance; and a genuine emotional engagement with minor as well as main characters. This novel strongly reminds me of the superb work of Peter Temple, and it reads completely naturally: my compliments to the translator, K L Seegers. I'm immediately going to seek out other novels by Deon Meyer.