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by Deon Meyer

Pub Date: Aug. 23rd, 2005
ISBN: 0-316-00012-4
Publisher: Little, Brown

More darkness out of post-apartheid South Africa, but after a sizzling debut, Meyer’s second disappoints.

It’s that pesky protagonist problem. With Thobela Mpayipheli, black, ex–freedom fighter, Meyer got it right in Heart of the Hunter (2004). With Zat van Heerden, white ex-cop, he doesn’t. Thobela is all about action, purpose, narrative drive. Zat, on the other hand, throbs with angst and wallows in introspection, both of which will hamper pace and hamstring thrillers every time. Zat is in a bad way when first we meet him as a self-hating borderline alcoholic. He does, however, have at least one long-suffering friend. Kemp guides Zat to Hope Beneke, an attractive young lawyer who needs an experienced investigator, a description that would have fit Zat tidily before he messed himself up. (How and why is exhaustively rendered in flashbacks that also hamper pace.) Hope’s client is the surviving significant other of a brutally murdered millionaire. In the process, Jan Smit’s safe was robbed of everything in it, including the will that left the bulk of his estate to the deserving Wilna van As. Without it, lock, stock and barrel goes to the government. Zat’s charge—find and retrieve the will before the final sitting of the Master’s Supreme Court in exactly one week. Zat knows, of course, that the task isn’t going to be easy. What he can’t know is how wild the complications will become when, as it soon turns out, Jan Smit isn’t—and never was—Jan Smit. Well, then, who was he? That’s the kind of secret hard men on both sides of the law will do just about anything to keep hidden. But Zat buckles down, chasing the missing will and his own redemption simultaneously.

A step back then, but enough flashes of real talent to hope for better from his next.