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piiskoor

Another fine mess

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Devil's peak - Deon Meyer I'm steeping myself in South African detective fiction, and I won't bore you with some of the ideas percolating. Instead, a simple recommendation.

This is the second Meyer book I've read, a stand-alone that continues the saga of Thobela (Tiny) Mpayipheli, blending in two new protagonists (the sort-of-maybe recovering-alcoholic Benny and the troubled prostitute Christine), and it shifts from the espionage/thriller focus of _Heart of the Hunter_ to a fairly agile interweaving of vigilante saga, burned-out cop melodrama, sex-worker tragedy, and drug-dealing/corruption thrills. Meyer takes some time building up steam; the cliched nature of some of his plotting at first can seem off-putting, equalled by a tendency to lean on exposition, lots of characters doing lots of internal monologue which spells out a bit too bluntly Big Themes and motifs. But by about 50, 60 pages in, these qualifications fade out, and the novel has built your investment in these substantive characters, despite the familiarity of the storyline.

And then about 2/3 of the way through, Meyer's plotting takes off, and he is a master at structuring across three (and more) characters' perspectives, jumping around in time, cross-cutting in ways that amplify both his thematic concerns and the suspense. A decent crime story becomes pretty damn fine by the last 50 pages.

And the book's full of smart, subtle insights into South African culture, particularly Cape Town, circa 2004. Every now and then, you get a nudge and recall that the Struggle (against apartheid, as it's commonly capitalized in the book and in discourse in RSA) underlies these incarnations of genre standbys. Various big plot elements (child sexual abuse; lingering strains of racism; a plague of violent crime) reflect big problems in the country now, and everything resonates with the recent history of apartheid brutalities. Police corruption is a typical plot device in crime stories, but in South Africa the police, particularly the Afrikaaner factions, were the blunt instrument, the heavy boot, the vicious enforcers of oppression -- this is a South African story, and it's a great social novel, on top of its thrills. (I have also realized, after grabbing Meyer's first two novels, that he's building up a repertoire of characters, cops and others who show up in the background of one another's stories, his own Yoknawtawphan Cape Town...)

Impressive.