Thirteen Hours, by Deon Meyer






Translated from the Afrikaans by K. L. Seegers

Thirteen hours in the life of South African police Detective Inspector Benny Griessel make Jack Bauer's exploits look like child's play. In the early hours of the morning, the body of a young woman is found in a churchyard in Cape Town. Benny is called out to help. Although as an old-timer there is little place for him in the modern South African police force, the young detectives who are being trained to take the place of the more experienced, yet politically unacceptable, old guard are, in the opinion of Commissioner John Africa, not ready to cope with a major investigation when it turns out that the victim is a US citizen. Benny is enrolled as a mentor for Inspector Vusumuzi Ndabeni (Vusi) who is nominally in charge.

While the detectives gather evidence from the scene with the unwilling help of the local uniformed police, the reader knows that there is a second young woman, Rachel, who is running for her life from the people who killed her friend Erin. Much of the novel is taken up with the hunt for Rachel and how she attempts to evade her pursuers. Her efforts to obtain help from the few people she sees so early in the morning are constantly frustrated as the odds of her escaping seem hopeless. But Rachel is a capable person, and has some tricks up her sleeve.

No sooner have Benny and Vusi begun to work out with the pathologist what may have happened to Erin than another body is discovered in a large house elsewhere in the city. Alexandra (Alexa) Barnard, a serious alcoholic and fading singer, wakes from her nightly stupor to find her husband, music entrepreneur Adam, lying dead, shot, beside her. Her hostile maid calls the police, in the shape of Inspector Fransman Dekker, another of Benny's mentorees and a very different kettle of fish from Vusi. Again, because of Adam's prominence as a businessman and Alexa's fame, Benny is sent to oversee the case. For the rest of this day, he has to race between the two investigations as they escalate, becoming ever-more complex and dangerous.

I won't give away any more of the plot of this exciting novel, which both progresses at breakneck speed as the police and the villains both try to find Rachel, and which provides ample reflection and insight into the day-to-day politics and dynamics of living in this country from many different perspectives. The main view is that of Benny, as he reflects on his failed marriage, his two children, his career and his own struggles with the bottle. We also see various South Africas – the business opportunities, the exploitation, the opportunists and, via Rachel's family and circle in the USA, the image of the country as a haven for crime and terrorism.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, both for its action-packed plot and for its subtle characterisations of many characters. Among the well-observed cameos, I particularly liked the only woman Inspector in the group of mentees, Mbali Kaleni, as well as increasingly enjoying the portrayals of Dekker and Vusi.

Review first pubilshed at Euro Crime, April 2010.




This entry was posted in Books, Crime fiction, Eurocrime, Police procedural, Series, Social comment, South Africa, Thriller, Translated and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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