Title: Devil’s Peak
Author: Deon Meyer
In present-day South Africa three stories unfold in parallel. Christine explains to a patient Minister what led to her becoming a prostitute while Benny, an alcoholic police officer, has one last-ditch attempt to salvage his marriage and career. At the same time Thobela, a former freedom-fighter, is devastated when his adopted son is killed as an innocent bystander to a robbery and he turns to a life of vengeance.
This book reminded me of Peter Temple’s The Broken Shore. Although they’re set on different continents both books stretch the boundaries of traditional crime fiction and use the genre to demonstrate wider social issues in an understated way. And, like Temple, Meyer paints the most spectacular pictures with often only a handful of words, as with the sentence
“Beyond George the houses of the wealthy sat like fat ticks against the dunes, silently competing for a better sea view”.
The book is littered with such startlingly clear images that make it easy to visualise the people never met and the places never visited.
At the beginning of the book I almost groaned audibly at the thought of yet another drunken copper (I’ve lost count of how many I’ve met over the years) but Meyer’s depiction of the alcoholic’s constant struggle with his demons is the most eloquently heart-wrenching character development I’ve read in a long time and I was soon internally cheering Benny’s day-by-day efforts along. In fact Meyer takes his time, and ours, establishing all three characters and their separate, but ultimately linked stories. In a lesser writer’s hands this would be annoying but here provides a solid foundation for what otherwise could be an unbelievable or far-fetched climax. Instead the stories are tantalisingly built to their inevitable but gripping combination and resolution.
While I won’t pretend that one book can give a definitive view of such a mammoth thing as post-apartheid South Africa I think a good book can provide a valid snapshot of a time and place that helps define the bigger picture. All three characters struggle with details of ‘the new South Africa’ in very real ways that made me think more deeply than I’ve done before about what the removal of the apartheid system might have been like to live through from a variety of perspectives.
I learned since reading this book that while not strictly part of a series there are other books featuring some of these characters however I didn’t once have the sense I was missing something by not having read anything else by this author. The book works entirely as a suspense-filled standalone novel which is haunting, unpredictable and utterly absorbing.
My rating 4.5/5
Euro Crime reviewed the audio version of the book in June 2008