Monday, January 9, 2012

Review of Devil's Peak by Deon Meyer (Hodder, 2007)

Christine van Rooyen is a high class escort with a young daughter that she dotes on and a rich client who wants her to play the role of a wife. Thobela Mpayipheli served as a elite soldier overseas before returning to work as a bodyguard for a criminal in Cape Town and eventually settling down on a farm with a wife and young son. The wife has died and the son becomes everything, but then at a service station two armed robbers shoot the boy as they make their getaway. Whilst on trial the two men escape and the police seem resigned to leaving them on the run. Thobela though isn't and he has the skills and the patience to track them down, and whilst he stalks them he can do the work that the justice system fails to. Inspector Benny Griessel is an alcoholic cop on the verge of losing his wife, kids and his job. He's been given one last chance to get himself off the drink and to solve the case of a vigilante killing paedophiles and child murderers that the justice system has failed to deal with. Christine, Thobela and Benny start to dance around each other, slowly circling until their inevitable convergence.

The real strengths of Devil's Peak are the characterisation, plotting and sense of place. Meyer provides an intricate story based on three in-depth character studies embedded in the turmoil of South African society, its criminal underbelly, and overstretched and corrupt police force. Over the course of the novel their back stories are revealed and teased apart as their lives start to intersect. The story moves at a steady pace, at times a little too slow for my tastes, slowed by detailed description, as Meyer carefully moves the inter-connecting pieces into place, but it builds to a page-turning finale. At its heart, the story is about the strengths and failings of people, families and institutional systems, and it raises questions about human nature, justice and the balance between self-destruction, love and survival. Benny Griessel and Meyer's storytelling reminded me of early Harry Bosch stories by Michael Connelly. Meyer writes with the same intensity, layering, and level of detailed knowledge that Connelly does, raising the story above the average police procedural fare. The overall result is a very fine read and I'll certainly be keeping an eye out Meyer's other novels.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Rob - Oh, I'm very glad you liked this one. I like Meyer's work very much too, and I couldn't agree more that his special strengths are characterisation and sense of place. And yes, the plots are nicely drawn. Thanks for the reminder :-).