Seven Days
Deon Meyer
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Seven Days
Deon Meyer
Atlantic Monthly Press
320 pages
September 2012
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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The real meat of Seven Days is in the details of a cold case assigned to an elite force of the South African “Hawks,” the detectives working under threat from an anonymous shooter. The anonymous author of a flurry of emails sometimes containing Biblical quotes promises to shoot police officers at random until the murder of Hannah Sloet is investigated.

I might have missed a very complicated mystery had I not been willing to wade through page after page of the drama of sober Cape Town detective Benny Griessel and his girlfriend, Alexa Bernard, who has gone off the wagon days before a concert that might catapult her back into the public eye. While Alexa drowns her fear of failure in alcohol, Benny blames himself for her binge. He thinks if he hadn’t been awed by her famous friends, she might not have gotten so outrageously drunk. Sober himself, Benny knows better but rushes in to save Alexa, apologizing profusely for his failure as she continues to drink. The detective is saved only by the urgency of the Sloet case and his need to do well with this new group of high-profile detectives. While Alexa whines, kvetches and falls into drunken oblivion, Benny is absorbed into an enigmatic case that has everyone stumped.

Hannah Sloet was a beautiful young career woman, a lawyer in an important firm dealing chiefly in the world of governance and high finance. There are few clues about the nature of Hannah’s personal life, let alone actual physical evidence from the crime scene. Through the barest of evidentiary fragments, Benny and his female partner, Detective Mbali Kaleni (who struggles with male intolerance in a department of few females), build the skeleton of a case, narrowing their focus to the murderer. Meanwhile, the emails continue and innocent officers are shot by the sniper. Public outrage grows with each day’s failure to produce results.

Fortunately, Alexa fades into the background as Meyer focuses on the cold case. This particular case has an excess of characters, motives, subplots and financial ramifications that widen the search for critical details, only gradually producing actionable information. The number of police officials involved is daunting, suggesting there might be questionable behavior involved by the authorities. The failure to resolve this case potentially exposes the department to accusations of corruption, and pressure comes from the top to clean this mess up before it gets any worse. Working on two levels—to solve Hannah Sloet’s murder and determine the identity of the sniper—Benny is more than usually aggravated, his worry and distraction with Alexa haunting his actions.

Financially motivated crimes are the most difficult to appreciate, partly for the environment in which they take place, a bloodless boardroom where criminals wear expensive suits and masquerade as gentlemen. Not exactly Benny’s natural element. Not my favorite for an author of usually consistent quality.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2012

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