/ 25 June 2009

South African suspense

Deon Meyer leaves bloody fingerprints all over his books and in the end Assegai misses its mark by a long shot.

13 Uur by Deon Meyer Human & Rousseau)

Deon Meyer leaves bloody fingerprints all over his books.

His novels are so engaging that you can easily get paper cuts from turning pages too fast or gripping books too tightly in one of his super- suspenseful moments.

His intricately researched plots are of course best dished up in Afrikaans, but English readers usually have a wait of only some months before being able to enjoy South Africa’s best suspense writing in their home language.

Meyer’s latest, 13 Uur, is a ripping good read guaranteed to keep you up until the last word. His overseas success is written into the novel, with American tourists taking centre stage and even a cameo for his American friend and fellow suspense writer Michael Connelly (who is also Meyer’s spitting image), but this hardly detracts from the plot.

South Africans will delight in the rollercoaster ride of a policeman chasing down a case in 13 hours all over Cape Town, and his growing fan base overseas will be won over once more.

13 Uur is 24 — only better. There is no need for a Kiefer Sutherland to carry the plot — the words alone are enough to hook you for the few hours necessary to finish the book.

And just as a teaser — former health minister
Manto’s liver makes a short but relevant appearance.

Assegai by Wilbur Smith (Pan Macmillan)

Wibur Smith has a loyal fan base. I used to be one of them.

In high school and at university I used to slurp up his tales of passion, adventure and wild travels in Africa in days gone by.

He romanticised South Africa’s history with sex, wild-eyed heroines and dashing heroes. And usually there was a good hunting story thrown in just for good measure.

Assegai takes that same recipe and I expected it to be another explosive adventure, except the whole formula has become so … old.

Suddenly the heroes are just too miraculous, the hunting adventures too bountiful and tiring, and the heroines just too easy. Although the setting in East Africa before World War I shows promise, the story does not develop into anything interesting.

The characters are all a bit shallow and the villains are hideous and boring. It is the easiest thing in the world to sketch a German villain — Nazi-profiling anyone?

And if you thought De la Rey had finally been laid to rest, Smith unearths him for one last adventure to overthrow the British. But the poor soul, apart from catching a submarine lift, is portrayed as somewhat simple.

A concept there certainly was, but unfortunately the novel subsides into one boring hunting trip after another. In the end Assegai misses its mark by a long shot.