switterbug (Betsey)'s Reviews > Thirteen Hours

Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer
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's review
Feb 22, 2011

it was amazing
Read in July, 2010

Afrikaner Deon Meyer's latest pulse-pounding thriller hits the ground running--literally. In Cape Town, South Africa, at six in the morning, an American teenage tourist is running for her life. Her best friend's throat was slit in front of her and she is bolting from the perpetrators' clutches. The story hits its stride early and swiftly as events unfold over thirteen-hours. Vicious outlaws and the snarl of conspiracy; Afrikaner, Xhosa, and Zulu crime-fighters; and crooners and corporate fleecers storm the pages of the book. Besides Rachel Anderson, the pursued and wily tourist, there's music industry giant, Adam Barnard, found shot and dead near his hard-drinking, faded-diva wife.

This is my third Meyer book (this is his seventh), after reading Dead at Daybreak and Blood Safari, all set in the author's home country. The narrative is bracing and the characters resonant and ripe. Meyer delivers with sizzle in this dual-crime novel; his terse prose lances the pages, and the pitch-perfect pace purrs and thrums. The reader feels like a detective as fragments eventually pull together from the grime of corruption. You suspect, you speculate, and you quiver. The knot of Barnard's death is teased out concurrently with Rachel's web of intrigue. Meyer is brilliant at interlocking disparate characters, events, and scenes, and at solving parallel puzzles.

The crisp story is supported by trenchant characters. Benny Griessel, the Slavic-eyed, bushy-haired Inspector with a sinking marriage and six months sobriety, has a sharp radar and a fox's energy, as well as a tarnished reputation. He pursues the perps with thirsty zeal while trying to keep his inner demons at bay. Can he save his marriage? Can he rescue the girl? Will the lure of drink undo him? Benny struggles to keep it together while people's lives are falling apart.

Fransman Dekker, an apt, avid cop with a strident temper, is furious about the racial hiring practice in the department. He's close to losing his cool over the results of affirmative action--not black enough, not white enough, feeling the statistical stab of "eight percent coloured." His nemesis, Zulu Mbali Kaleni, is one of the most delightfully imperious and exotic policewomen I have come across in fiction. She looks like an "overstuffed piegeon," with a "big bulge in front and a big bulge behind in her tight black trouser suit." Dekker, Griessel, and Kaleni, like the other players in the book, are dimensional and sympathetic. Meyer has a knack for fiery characters that vault from the pages while they crackle and burn.

The story is taut and the climax is gripping. Although more cinematic and conventional than his previous work, Meyer's brio is seductive, his pointed narrative is spicy. Some parts are predictable, yet without feeling tired and shopworn. He tells the story with a candid depth that is wholly humane and authentic. A primal essence buzzes and hums as he juxtaposes scenes, cutting from one jolting moment to the next. And although I am typically put off by cell phone bits in a novel, Meyer's snappy insertions actually increase the story's tensile strength. The chapters revolve around the clock and the minutes fly with the pages. He controls the fluid narrative with an acid restraint and never goes overboard. It vibrates with soul, but it's not for the faint of heart.
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