“He came around the bulging thigh of the mountain and a vista opened up below: ships and cranes, wide blue water, city buildings and freeways, and the coastline curving gracefully away to Blouberg. He wanted to turn to Pakamile and say: ‘Look at that, that is the most beautiful city in the world,’ and see his son gaze in wonder at all this.”
– Deon Meyer, Devil’s Peak
This is a thriller set in Cape Town/Southern Africa. I don’t usually read books set in places I know and it was an interesting experience. The author definitely did a good job in capturing the beauty of SA, as well as all the way corruption mars that beauty, leaves scars. The book is told from the point of view of three people. There is- Benny Griessel, an alcoholic detective who has been thrown out by his wife and told not to come back until clean, Thobela Mpayipheli, a man with a dark past who has quite happily settled down for a quiet life raising his son, until his son is killed in a random act of violence and Christine, a young prostitute with a story to tell. Christine sits down to tell her story to a priest, Thobela sets off to Cape Town to hunt down his child’s killer after justice fails him, and Griessel balances his detective work with an attempt at sorting his life out, desperate to see his wife and children again. Although at first all three stories seem separate, their paths eventually tangle together leading to an abrupt, twisted end, hinting at nothing particularly happy.
There are things about this book that worked for me and things that did not. I did not like Griessel. He was a pathetic loser, quite frankly. A messed up, selfish man. And a tired character, at that. Although, admittedly, I was on the edge of my seat when Griessel bought the bottle of brandy, it was nearly as tense as the murder mystery itself-the will he give it up? won’t he? – of reading this man trying to do the right thing and face himself, instead of drowning everything out with alcohol. Still, although I was interested to see what the author did with such a pathetic character, I did not like him. In contrary the criminals are the ones who came across as the most sympathetic. I was drawn to Thobela, who is so dangerous but so driven by love. He came across as a kind and honourable man, despite the terrible things he did. Its actually a little uncomfortable, that. Christine is mysterious and I don’t know what to make of her. And her story does not seem the center of it all, until it is. Which is why a few lines at the end shocked me, that implied she could have been lying the whole time. What is the point of those chapters spent reading her story, if it is a lie? Nonetheless, I thought this book brilliantly plotted. Initially its quite difficult to get into because of how separate the three stories feel, but then they start coming together, and in such a clever and unpredictable way, and I could not put it down. Yes, its a long book, that takes its time to tell its story, but it is never boring and the writing, although suffering at points from not-written-in-english-first awkwardness, is lovely. As for the ending, I cannot decide if I liked the way things wrapped up or not. Although I can accept it.
So, this was an engaging thriller. I’ll likely be reading more from this author, and I have a few other books set in Southern Africa I want to read. It’s really quite fun reading books set in a familiar place.