Devil's Peak #1 - a mystery in South Africa
Devil's Peak #1 by Deon Meyer
Published January 2004; 409 pages
I found the recommendation for this book from Mareli on Elza Reads - she lives in South Africa and recommended this series as a good one by a S. African author. She is right - it's a good one!
This complex novel is told from three perspectives: Detective Benny Greissel, once a brilliant investigator, now an alcoholic; Christine who tells her sad life story to a priest; Thobela, a large Xhosa man whose young son is killed and he becomes a vigilante who seeks retribution against those who harm children. A diverse collection of characters but their individual stories are skillfully woven together making a suspenseful and thought provoking story.
When Christine is first introduced in the story, telling her story to a priest, I was confused. I didn't know what she had to do with the plot of the death of Thobela's son and the sad life of Benny. It took me a while to figure out how she fit into the story. Each of the characters is complex and flawed - their motivations, their actions, and their questionable decisions just make them more believable.
In an effort to help Benny redeem himself, his boss assigns him to be in charge of the vigilante case AND has him mentor a new detective. That doesn't always go well, and after the rookie screwed up an interview, he was given this instruction which seemed like good advice.
"I want you to go and talk, Jamie. Watch the body language, look at the eyes. Don’t make accusations. Just talk. Ask if they saw anything. Ask if Laurens was a difficult employer. Be sympathetic. Ask if they have heard of the assegai man. Give them a chance to talk. Sometimes they talk easily and too much. Listen, Jamie. Listen with both your ears and your eyes and your head. The thing with a murder investigation is, first you look at it from a distance, look at everything. Then you come a step closer and look again. Another step. You don’t charge in — you stalk."
I liked that Meyer created a character that supported an opposing view to the fact that the vigilante is bad and needs to be stopped. The need for vigilantism was tied to the pervasive lack of policing in Cape Town.
This book touches on personal demons and how those can become societal demons. I don't know when I've ever read such an authentic description of alcoholism and the daily/hourly personal battles the drinker is fighting. As I read through a passage describing his need for a drink, I remember thinking, 'this is so clear and painful, it feels totally real'. The same can be said for the other 2 characters as well - Christine and her attempt to save her daughter that goes awry and sends her on the run, and Thobela and his growing doubts that his vigilantism is the right path.
I really enjoyed this page turner of a mystery. After the initial confusion of Christine's part in the story, I sympathized with each character's challenges and tough decisions. I'll definitely be reading more in the series. Recommended for readers who don't mind a bit of gruesome details but love complicated characters presented in all their brokenness.