An Interview with
Interviewer Luan Gaines: Your new novel is a departure from the nerve-wracking chase you wrote in Heart of the Hunter. What was your inspiration for Dead at Daybreak?
Deon Meyer:As is the case with most of my books, there is no “Big Bang” origin theory – rather a series of little bangs. There was the fact that I wanted to create a very different protagonist to a previous novel (and so Zet van Heerden was born), I wanted to tap into the rich vein of material from the Angolan bush war, and wanted to write about childhood in the Northwest province, where I grew up.
Zatopek van Heerden lives in a parallel universe as he pursues the missing will: the realities of the case and his own personal demons. How do these inner conflicts affect his ability to do his job or function in his day to day life?
The inner conflicts have a huge influence on his existence. It made him resign his job as a policeman, turned him into a recluse, and is the dynamo for his anti-social behavior and aggression. In other words, very different to the man he used to be.
Zet grows up on stories of his parent's "love at first sight" romance, although the couple had little in common. How does Zet's interpretation of love and marriage affect his approach to relationships with women and why?
There are two Van Heerdens – the man before the fall, and the man since the death of his former detective partner. Up to Van Heerden’s great fall, he very much believed in the concept of love at first sight, and this shaped his relationships with the opposite sex. But by the time we meet him (at the start of the novel) he does not believe in anything except the fact that he is trash – and that no woman could or should love him.
An extensive investigation of Johannes Smit's life prior to 1983 opens up a Pandora's Box for van Heerden. Without giving anything away, haven't most of the atrocities been addressed by the Truth and Reconciliation Committee? Or do these potential activities go beyond the scope of the TRC?
The TRC addressed all the public atrocities – those committed by the Apartheid Regime against (mostly black) victims. But as far as the Intelligence services of both sides are concerned, a lot was left unsaid. Hundreds of thousands of documents were destroyed, and many stories left untold.
Like any good ex-cop, van Heerden has a number of resources available in the criminal element of society, men he uses as backup in this case. Can you speak about Orlando and why he is willing to help van Heerden?
Orlando has three major reasons why he is willing to help Van Heerden. The first two are all about self-interest. His drug operations are under threat because he must face “international competition” in a new, open South Africa, and there is the prospect of getting his hands on millions of dollars. The third reason is the fact that he is an art lover, and regards Van Heerden’s mother as a “national treasure”.
Van Heerden judges himself and comes up wanting. Why is it impossible for him to forgive himself when he doesn't apply the same impossible standards to others?
Isn’t that what we all do, one way or another? Back when he was an academic and a policeman, he saw himself on the side of the “good”. The process of discovering the evil inside him was devastating.
You give Zet some interesting traits: he can't shoot (to put it mildly) and he loves to cook. How does cooking become his means of connection with others, especially his mother and Hope Beneke?
Cooking and music (read Mozart) are the two things in his life that still remind him of the time before his fall. They are his saving graces, his reminders that a part of him, somewhere, can still do “good” things.
The hardened mercenaries that confront Tiny and van Heerden have no scruples about murdering them or their hostages. Is there any way to deal with these men besides violence?
No. They are violent men, and understand one language only.
Do you have any more novels planned for Zet van Heerden and/or Tiny Mpayipheli? Can you tell us something about your next project?
Tiny is a major character is a new novel (Afrikaans title: Infanta) which was published in Afrikaans last year, and should be available in English by 2006. As for Zet, I’m not sure that he will feature again, but you never know.
I am currently working on a novel provisionally titled Southern Cross, which does not include any characters from previous novels.
Do you have any advice for would-be writers that you can share with us?
I think the best advice would be to sit down and write. It might sound simple, but I find that a lot of would-be writers talk about it much more than actually doing it. Writing, like all skills, are only developed when you apply yourself.
Deon Meyer is an internationally renowned South African crime writer who also works as a journalist and Internet consultant. He is the author of Heart of the Hunter and Dead Before Dying, which is forthcoming from Little, Brown and Company. He lives in Cape Town.
Contributing reviewer Luan Gaines interviewed Deon Meyer, author of Dead at Daybreak (see accompanying review), about his book via email for curledup.com. No part
of this interview may be reproduced without permission. Luan Gaines/2005.