Friday, April 15, 2011

Thirteen Hours of Suspense

I had to stay up last night to finish this outstanding suspense novel by South African writer Deon Meyer. His creation, Benny Griessel, is my new cop hero. Years ago I went through a stage where all I read were Ed McBain's police procedurals. Add to that, an affinity for Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue (Dennis Franz was my main man), and Law and Order, I got to the point where I could read between the lines of any news article on a crime and accurately surmise "the rest of the story."

I love the psychology of crime and the crime solvers as well. Michael Connelly fascinates me and Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme series calls to me, especially since he's added body language expert Katherine Dance. I hoped to be a psychiatrist from a very young age but, thankfully, my mother disabused me of that notion. She rightly worried for my own mental health - perhaps not thinking I was stable enough to take on other people's troubles?

So I came to Thirteen Hours as a return to crime novels because I had read several excellent reviews but also because of my interest in South Africa, in this case Cape Town, where the Meyer novels take place. The novel is so much more than a murder mystery but that doesn't keep the adrenalin from flowing and the heart racing as recovering alcoholic and recently promoted Captain Benny Griessel plays beat the clock in an effort to halt the execution of a second young American tourist in a city struggling to forge a reputation as a tourist mecca.

Eighteen year old Rachel Anderson overrode the worries of her Indianapolis folks and embarked on the trip of a lifetime with African Overland Tours. About halfway through the trip, though, her positively euphoric response to all that she's learned and seen, takes a dramatic dive.
 Her friends don't understand and neither do we. In fact, Meyer juggles so many seemingly disparate threads that he keeps the reader guessing right up the last minute as to why Rachel is being hunted like a wild animal through the streets of Cape Town by, not one, but five sinister young men.

Adding to the suspense is the way the chapter headings each cover a small one or two hour window in the overall thirteen hours of this particular day. Along the way readers are introduced to the beauty of Table Mountain and the ugly residue of apartheid. Divisions in the police hierarchy are based on color, language, sex, and tribal culture. Whites resent being questioned by blacks while the "coloureds" (mixed race) are basically persona non grata.

 As in all major cities, political expediency grossly affects who is appointed to a high profile case where a PR nightmare is in the offing. The pressure on Benny comes from above and below as he's assigned to three cases in one day, acting as mentor to a new group of cops, while worrying about his own daughter who's studying in another country and his wife who's left him until he cleans up his act. Can he focus? Will he relapse? Read it and see. I'm moving on to Meyer's previous novel Blood Safari.

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