Dead at Daybreak
Deon Meyer
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Dead at Daybreak
Deon Meyer
Little, Brown
384 pages
August 2005
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Like Deon Meyerís first novel, Dead at Daybreak takes place in South Africa, where Zed van Heerden is disenchanted with life since his partnerís death. He has quit the force and spends his days in alcoholic oblivion. His old cronies in the department believe Nagelís death at the hands of a serial killer has pushed van Heerden over the edge, but it is more than that, an unbearable guilt that the disillusioned detective carries in his heart, unable to resolve or relieve.

After leaving the force, van Heerden works sporadically as a P.I., contracted by attorney Hope Beneke to locate a will that was stolen in a home invasion. Only the will and the contents of a specially built safe were removed, nothing else in the place touched, except for the torture/murder of the resident, Johannes Smit, who was shot, execution-style, in the back of the head.

The antique dealerís live-in partner, Wilna van As, has only seven days to find the will and claim the estate. His job made more difficult by the time restriction, Zedís frustration mounts with each dead end he faces; but when he learns there is no paper trail for Smit prior to his business, the PI turns his attentions to Smitís activities pre-1983, unwittingly opening a Pandoraís box of killers, intelligence agents, mercenaries and assorted desperadoes, all of whom will do anything to keep certain information quiet. Suddenly, Zed is pursued in an accelerating cat-and-mouse game that quickly degenerates into violence.

Meyer creates a parallel universe, a police procedural translated into a struggle to contain the despair that has crippled van Heerdenís spirit. This concentrated self-denial usurps his waking life, poisoning the present and the future; only the jailer can unlock the cell. The investigation of Smitís murder reopens old wounds, bringing to the surface the memories Zed so desperately strains to suppress. Forced to look into his soul, Zed only acknowledges the evil without compassion or forgiveness.

In this fascinating drama, personal conundrum overlaps professionalism in a moral quagmire, diverse characters sharply drawn, their motives complicated. Even Tiny Mpayipheli, the hero of Heart of the Hunter, makes an appearance, lending his critical support to van Heerden on the final bloody leg of their journey. Constructing the emotional turmoil of a man in conflict, Meyer ties art to life in a subtle marriage of music, passion and imagination, giving a sense of purpose to suffering: ďI didnít realize how finally, how dramatically the morning of my life would spill me over the edge like so much flotsam.Ē

Insightful and psychologically taut, this South African thriller is compelling, a thoughtful examination of denial, personal responsibility and the acceptance of human limitations. Once again, Meyer displays his impressive skills as an observer of human nature, with all its misplaced passions and yearning for compatibility with the interior landscape of the heart.

Click here for Luan Gaines' interview with author Deon Meyer

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2005

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