Most of the books I buy are impulse purchases based on the publisher’s blurb on the back cover, but Thirteen Hours was the first book I’ve bought simply because it was based in place that I’ve been to.
Actually, a slight correction — I bought it because I happened to be with my daughter who has just returned from South Africa and since the book is set in Cape Town, it appealed to us both.
It is a police thriller, as usual for me, but it was strange to be reading about places I could easily picture in my mind because I’d been there. Taffelberg Road, for example, that runs along the face of Table Mountain, or De Waal Drive close to where we were staying.
And actual businesses, like the Cat and Moose Backpackers on Long Street which presumably did not object to being connected with mayhem and violent death, even if it is only fiction.
But familiarity aside, it is a good read. This is the sixth novel by South African author, Deon Meyer, and ‘stars’ a police service riven with post-apartheid tensions.
The central character is Benny Griesel, one of the few remaining white detective in the South African Police Service (SAPS). He has been assigned to mentor a mix of m younger coloured, Xhosa and Zulu detectives.
The Thirteen Hours of the title refers to a very difficult day for SAPS. A girl, an American backpacker, has been murdered and her friend is on the run from the killers which brings intense political pressure on the detectives. Meanwhile, an Afrikaans recording mogul is found dead at his home, apparently shot by his alcoholic wife.
Benny and his team are torn between the two cases as they try to piece together what has happened and why and Meyer does an excellent job of creating an atmosphere of tension as the pressure mounts.
He is also perceptive in his portrayal of the racial politics of the new South Africa. The coloured detective, Dekker, who feels marginalised between black and white; Vusi Ndabeni, the quiet, decent Xhosa who struggles to deal with the anger of the city and the white experienced white detectives being pushed out because of quotas.
The final ‘big shoot out’ happens in Observatory where my daughter was living and I found myself thinking that I hadn’t realised what a dangerous place it was before reminding myself — it’s only a story!
I will buy more of Meyer’s work on the strength of Thirteen Hours and would recommend it. Definitely five out of five stars.