A work of art from SA’s great crime writer

CityPress - - Voices - KATE TURK­ING­TON voices@city­press.co.za

Icarus by Deon Meyer Hod­der & Stoughton 400 pages R335 (hard­back) and R169 (pa­per­back) at takealot.com

It’s taken South African au­thor Deon Meyer 10 pre­vi­ous nov­els, and as many years, to right­fully earn his place be­side other great, global, con­tem­po­rary crime writ­ers. There’s no doubt that Cap­tain Benny Gries­sel of the SA Po­lice Ser­vice now stands shoul­der to shoul­der with Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole, Michael Con­nelly’s Harry Bosch, Ian Rankin’s In­spec­tor Re­bus or James Lee Burke’s Dave Ro­bicheaux.

Icarus, Meyer’s lat­est un­put­down­able novel, the fifth fea­tur­ing the cyn­i­cal and al­most burntout lead de­tec­tive in South Africa’s pri­or­ity crimes unit, sees Gries­sel 602 days dry.

That’s un­til the do­mes­tic tragedy of a fel­low of­fi­cer pushes him over the edge once again. He aban­dons his girl­friend, Alexa, also a re­cov­er­ing al­co­holic, and goes to ground in a ho­tel.

It’s not a good time to be drink­ing. The mur­dered body of a young celebrity en­tre­pre­neur, Ernst Richter, has just been dis­cov­ered on a beach north of Cape Town.

There’s a me­dia frenzy when Richter turns out to be the owner of a no­to­ri­ous lo­cal web­site, Alibi, which pro­vides al­i­bis, false doc­u­ments and phone calls so that peo­ple can cheat on their part­ners.

The list of clients who have used Alibi in­clude celebri­ties, men of the cloth, politi­cians, bankers, fam­ily men and women. Any one of them has suf­fi­cient mo­tive to want the keeper of their se­crets, Richter, si­lenced.

Gries­sel’s col­league, the ever-so-cool Vaughn Cupido, with the smartest takkies in town, is put in charge of the case un­der the watch­ful eye of Ma­jor Mbali Kaleni, who is slow, hon­est, thor­ough, and is painfully putting her­self through “Prof Tim’s” bant­ing diet. She in­sists Gries­sel also be­come part of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion team.

As the case be­gins to gather mo­men­tum, a young Cape wine­maker from Stel­len­bosch seeks the help of a well-known fe­male lawyer. He has a com­pli­cated, heart-rend­ing story to tell that in­volves not only his fam­ily, but South Africa’s wine in­dus­try. But how can his tale pos­si­bly throw light on the mur­der?

Ex­pect crack­ling di­a­logue (you’ll laugh out loud at times), a su­perbly crafted plot, to­tally cred­i­ble char­ac­ters and a per­cep­tive take on con­tem­po­rary South Africa that is shafted with hu­mour and hon­esty.

One of Meyer’s many gifts as a writer is his pow­er­ful sense of place. Just as Louisiana is a cen­tral char­ac­ter in the great crime nov­els of James Lee Burke, so Cape Town and its en­vi­rons are the cru­cial con­text for Gries­sel and his col­leagues. Meyer brings South Africa richly and specif­i­cally to life. This is cer­tainly his best book to date.

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