Deon Meyer’s novels have a particular appeal, not only for their thoughtful and concise plotting but for the very human qualities of the characters, especially Captain Mat Joubert, the detective in charge of solving a recent spate of point-blank murders.
To add to the frustration surrounding the murders, the weapon used is an antique Mauser Broomhandle, a unique signature and a significant fact that does little to aid the investigation as the bodies pile up. Meanwhile, Joubert is sinking under the weight of his despair, still grieving the death of his wife two years and three months ago, his police work noticeably suffering and his connection to life failing miserably.
Too frequently, Joubert ruminates on the only option that makes any sense, taking his own life - that is, until the attentions of a young woman awaken him to the fact that he may not be ready to give up the ghost quite yet.
It’s just as well. Under the leadership of a new commanding officer, the first black minister of law and order, the Department of Murder and Robbery is officially a part of the new South Africa, post-apartheid.
Bart de Wit is enigmatic and demanding, requiring all the men in his command to shape up physically and mentally, their jobs contingent on sufficient progress in every aspect of their lives. Each officer is called on the carpet and expected to change his ways or leave the job in service to the image of the department.
Still reeling from his abrupt decision to return to the living, Joubert acquiesces to De Wit’s demands, at the same time grappling with long-dormant emotions and a desire to stop the senseless murders. He agrees to a physical exam and a therapist, De Wit contentiously monitoring his every move.
Meyer creates a fine balance of tension in his novel, the increasing urgency of the case and the inner turmoil of a man painfully resurfacing but filled with helpless rage and untapped guilt. These characters are real, their faults familiar: his friend and co-worker, the alcoholic Detective Sergeant Benny Griessel, whose job is on the line; the wife of the first victim, Margaret Wallace (she of the strangely colored eyes), whose husband kept secrets; even the delicate but skillful therapist assigned by the department.
The combination of humanity and criminality render Meyer’s novels irresistible, tapping into the utter horror of random murders and the devastation such acts leave in their wake. Ready to deal with life after his dark night of the soul, Joubert is thrust into the complex motives and shameful history of the murders, determined to bring these serial killings to an end.
More than a police procedural, Dead Before Dying is solid, tightly-plotted and unpredictable, the new South Africa more recognizable with each Meyer title, the violence universal.