THIRTEEN HOURS by Deon Meyer
“There are rules. Use them. In any case, you can do what you want, it won’t change. I have been a policeman for over twenty-five years, Fransman, and I’m telling you now, they will always treat you like a dog, the people, the press, the bosses, politicians, regardless of whether you are black, white or brown. Unless they’re phoning you in the middle of the night saying “there’s someone at the window” – then you’re the fucking hero. But tomorrow when the sun shines, you’re nothing again. The question is: can you take it? Ask yourself that. If you can’t, drop it, get another job. Or put up with it, Fransman, because it’s never going to stop.”
Review by Bonnie Brody (SEP 10, 2010)
Deon Meyer’s books just keep getting better and better. His newest thriller, Thirteen Hours, had me on the edge of my seat from the first chapter. For those readers not familiar with Meyer’s previous books, his novels take place in his homeland of South Africa with this novel taking place in Capetown. The book is a roller coaster of a read with several different plot lines vying for precedence at the same time and each of them as compelling as the other. The book takes place in a time period of thirteen hours, hence the title.
We first encounter a young American named Rachel who is running for her life. Her friend Erin has been murdered with Rachel as a witness. Rachel was able to escape and the murderers are chasing Rachel through the outskirts and city of Capetown by car and by foot. So far, she has managed to evade them. At the same time, the police are dealing with the murder of a music studio executive, Adam Barnard, who is found murdered in his home with a gun near the hand of his passed out alcoholic wife, Alexa Barnard. Both of these murders are being investigated simultaneously with alternating chapters dealing with each.
The protagonists of this book are strikingly characterized. This is one of Meyer’s gifts. Along with all the action, we are privy to perspicacious and uncommonly careful characterizations that are rarely encountered in thrillers. The head detective is Benny Griessel, an Afrikaans inspector who is hoping to be promoted to captain. Currently his job description is vague, but he is supposed to mentor new inspectors. Benny is a recovering alcoholic with 156 days of sobriety. He is separated from his wife because of his alcoholism. One of the requirements for their reconciliation is that Benny remain sober for six months. He and his wife are supposed to meet this very evening to discuss the future of their relationship.
The novel talks about the different races of the inspectors – Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, or coloured. Benny, an Afrikaans, is mentoring Vusi Ndabeni, a Xhosa man who is responsible for overseeing Rachel’s case. Vusi needs to learn how to be more aggressive in his interrogations. He has a gentle but strong spirit. Benny is also mentoring inspector Fransman Dekkker, a coloured man of mixed ethnicity who is sexually addicted and is in charge of the case of Adam Barnard, the murdered music executive. Then there is Zulu inspector Mbali Kaleni, a female detective who is not accepted among her peers because of her gender but she is also very fat. She is described as smelling of Kentucky Fried Chicken all the time though no one sees her eating it. “She looked like an overstuffed pigeon – short, with a big bulge in front and a big bulge behind in her tight black trouser suit. Large handbag over her shoulder, service pistol in a thick black belt around her hips and her SAPS ID card hanging from a cord around her neck, probably because no one would believe she was a policewoman.” Mbali is working on both cases and has a very good detective’s instinct. Benny is her mentor as well.
This book deals excellently with several sub-topics that are very important, especially racism and addiction. Benny’s alcoholism is dealt with realistically and he is involved in AA and has a sponsor. He feels a certain sensitivity towards Alexa Barnard because of her alcoholism. She was once a famous singer but her husband, a sex addict, has ruined her sense of self-worth with his non-stop escapades and she has turned to alcohol. Fransman Dekker is getting a lot of insight about his own sexual addiction by working this case. His personal insights, once there, are stunning. Along with addiction, the book deals with the changing quota system that the police department is constantly dealing with. Quotas change depending on who is in power. Right now there is a push for more Zulus and Xhosas, and less coloureds. This makes Fransman Dekker very angry. His anger often gets in the way of his investigations and as Benny mentors Franzman he reveals how his own anger kept him from being promoted several times. He is trying to help Fransman to keep more of an even keel so that he can succeed in the department. There are several languages spoken by the investigators depending on what race or ethnicity they are. Some of the ones I noted while reading this novel are Xhosa, Zulu, English, Afrikaans, and Shona. This can create cultural misunderstandings and linguistic difficulties between colleagues.
This is a remarkable novel in so many ways. It is literary fiction at the same time that it is a thriller. It deals with deep issues without sermonizing. Most importantly, as a reader, it is hard to put down. It keeps up the interest from the very first to the very last page with no rabbit trails or deus ex machina. The plot is complicated but very easily followed because of the quality of Meyer’s writing. It is a novel for just about anyone who wants a wild ride through a fantastic book.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 29 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Atlantic Monthly Press; (September 7, 2010)|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Deon Meyer|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Read our review of:|
- Dead Before Dying (1999;May 2006 in US)
- Dead at Daybreak (2000; August 2005 in US)
- Heart of the Hunter (2003; July 2004 in US)
- Blood Safari (August 2009 in US)
Inspector Benny Griessel: