Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sunday Salon: Fine South African Crime fiction

Do you belong to reading groups? Either internet or face to face? I do. And isn't it fun when a book sparks more than just the usual standard debate. One such book this past week is Deon Meyer's DEVIL'S PEAK.
Here's my review.

Devil’s Peak
Author: Deon Meyer (translated from Afrikaans by K. L. Seegers)
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
ISBN: 9780340822654 (hardcover)
Published: 2007
408 pages

What makes a book special for you? For me it’s when the characters and the story stays with you after you’ve closed the book. All too often once the book is finished, The details begin to fade almost immediately. Not so with DEVIL’S PEAK by Deon Meyer.

DEVIL’S PEAK begins with a prostitute telling her story to a clergyman. On her lap is a shoe box. What’s in the box?

Inspector Benny Giessel has just been thrown out of the house by his wife. She has given him an ultimatum. Choose either the booze or his family. He has six months to get sober and stay that way or he won’t see his kids again. Benny is a veteran of the South African police. He is one of the very few left from the days of apartheid. In a force where the majority are young and inexperienced, a wise Superintendant realises the the value of a talented and experienced detective. With the support of his boss, Benny begins the slow, painful process of getting sober and staying that way.
Someone is killing people with an Assegai (tribal spear). Many on the police force aren’t that bothered because the victims are child killers. Benny is assigned to lead the investigation. Realising this may well be his last chance to save his career as well as his marriage, Benny puts everything into finding out the identity of the killer.

The alcoholic detective is something of a staple in crime fiction; to the extent that it frequently becomes a cliché. Not so Benny. Meyer writes about Benny’s struggle , self-recrimination and the realisation of the full impact of his drinking on his life, his family and his colleagues with a great deal of sensitivity . We feel Benny’s pain, guilt and despair as struggles through “one day at a time.”
DEVIL’S PEAK was written in Afrikaans and translated by K.L. Seegers. Not only is the translation spot on, but Seegers has retained enough of the Afrikaans slang and dialect for the reader to easily imagine an Afrikaans accent.

The sense of place and culture are also very strong. There is no way this book could be set anywhere but South Africa. DEVIL’S PEAK is not only well written with a nicely honed plot, but the author has also seamlessly incorporated a history lesson, a clear idea of diverse cultures and characters you won’t forget in a hurry. These all combine to make DEVIL’S PEAK a memorable read on many levels.
The second week of 2009 isn’t over yet and already I feel I’ve read one of my top books for 2009.

5 comments:

Euro Crime said...

Add in fellow South African Saul Reichlin as narrator and it makes for a marvellous read/listen. One of, if not the top, listens for me last year.

Sunnie Gill said...

Good to know. Thanks.

Karen C said...

Speaking of South African - you need to get your hands on SA born / Australian resident Malla Nunn's first book - A Beautiful Place to Die. Fantastic book.

Sunnie Gill said...

Oh I'm trying, believe me. I'm number 8 on the list at the library where they have only 5 copies. I've looked in some of the local shops but haven't found it so far. Will keep looking though. I had wanted to read it before LCC but it's looking unlikely.

Euro Crime said...

Thanks for the reminder. I've just reserved a copy at my library. It's not out until March here.