WHEN a new Deon Meyer lands on the shelves, I feel like WH Auden: “Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone / Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone.” All 490 pages of such a book have to be devoured in one sitting. Keep it for the holidays, or for a weekend when you have nothing planned.
This time I had to read it in instalments, and something was lost because the momentum was interrupted every time I had to put it aside to read something else or write about something else. Last night, I sank my teeth into the last half and didn't let go.
It's no secret: my criminal heart has belonged to Meyer since 13 Hours. I've read the earlier ones too, but right there, in the Cape Town city bowl, he stole my heart. My favourite detective is Bennie Griessel, that damaged alcoholic with dark, almond-shaped eyes and messy hair that always needs a cut. Who loves the Mother City. Who drank and keeps on thirsting because he feels too much. Who cares deeply for other people and wants to save everyone. Who is haunted by crime scenes. Who always doubts himself. Who now, at least, has the love and admiration of an exceptional woman; they're planning to get married. But he remains sombre and depressed.
Smooth-talking Vaughn Cupido, a roaring extrovert, chest puffed out and bordering on arrogant, cheerful and optimistic, fond of grandiloquent words. Smart as a whip, even if he doesn't always grasp romantic gestures or the female psyche. He and Bennie have become like brothers and give you hope for the police service. Their banter, usually in high-pressure situations, provides comic relief and leaves the reader smiling. Promotion continues to elude these two brilliant detectives. Their investigations are consistently thwarted from above because the police service has been hijacked, compromised and hollowed out. But I sleep better in the hope that there may still be people like Bennie and Vaughn in the service.
The ball is set in motion when the body of a female student is found on a hiking and cycling route in the mountains near Stellenbosch. Vaughn and Bennie question a retired recce, now suspiciously wealthy. He walks the route every day with his dangerous dogs. There are bite marks on the body. They also talk to his grieving sister and sole heir. She activates their bullshit radar.
Thus, a nest is stirred up that leads deep into the machinery of state capture. Naturally, everything is connected, nothing is incidental. Characters from previous books also return to the stage, such as Vlooi, the damaged, dangerous, desirable and fearless woman who always lands on her feet. She is recruited as the honey trap in a planned heist. We know her backstory. She is a fascinating, complicated character. She also sojourns in the Italian countryside, which Meyer knows well and which he depicts alluringly.
It's about a meticulously planned heist or two, and the baggage and history behind the gold and dollars in the vault. There are rapacious state looters and psychopathic ex-special forces, corrupt politicians, opportunists and greedy grabbers. Deadly weapons and small aeroplanes. I can't give away much more about the plot. Meyer conducts thorough research and his storylines are always relevant — they address the issues we're currently pondering. And he has a support team second to none.
You'll be on the edge of your seat, chewing your nails about: Is Bennie ready to get married? Will he make it to the church on time? Will Vaughn manage to shed a few kilograms (he's so hungry and craving his mom's dumplings)? Will Desiree forgive him for the thoughtless comment about Diana Krall? Will justice ever prevail? And: please let Vlooi get away, even if she's guilty, because we want to read about her again.
There's a soundtrack, too: classical music, blues and jazz. And rhythm and tempo that leave you breathless. Modern-day Afrikaans struts its stuff in all its different dresses.
Our language has excellent crime writers. Meyer is the best, if you ask me. He's internationally acclaimed, even more so than locally. I'm a suspense junkie, but first and foremost it's about the characters for me. I wish he would write another book like Fever, my all-time favourite. That book was underrated and, in my opinion, transcended genre classification. Yes, there were big guns and artillery, sophisticated weaponry and strategy in the storyline, but the book is character-driven and I don't know which characters in Afrikaans fiction from that year, 2016, stay with me more vividly. Moreover, it was prophetic.
Buy Leo and take a day or two off work.
Who, what, where and how much? Leo by Deon Meyer was published by Human & Rousseau and costs R288 at Graffiti.
What are we listening to? ABBA sings “Money, money, money”.
♦ VWB ♦
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