DEAD AT DAYBREAK by Deon Meyer



Book Reviews
DEAD AT DAYBREAK by Deon Meyer
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Aug 27, 2005, 16:15

DEAD AT DAYBREAK by Deon Meyer; Little, Brown, 2005

The Heart of the Hunter, released here in 2004, was the first US publication for the accomplished South African journalist and crime writer. It received all sorts of accolades from critics and readers alike, but it wasn't until Dead at Daybreak came out (with a nice push from Michael Connelly, who took Meyer out on the road with him last summer on the book signing circuit) that Meyer really made a name for himself in the States.

Afrikaner Zatopek “Zet” van Heerden is a former cop slipping fast into drunken dissolution when a colleague appears with an opportunity: an attorney, Hope Beneke, needs a private investigator fast to find a missing will. An antiques dealer, Johannes Jacobus Smit, was recently found burnt with a blowtorch and shot execution-style, the contents of his walk-in safe, including his will, gone. Beneke and van Heerden have only seven days to find the document before Smit's considerable assets revert to the state, leaving his common-law wife destitute. It doesn't take long for van Heerden to discover that “Smit” wasn't the person whose papers he carried, and that someone very important, quite possibly the state itself, wants to hide his true identity.

Meyer combines the thriller's classic compressed time frame with a character-driven narrative to great effect. The real achievement here, however, is his portrait of van Heerden, a crusty hardcase struggling to keep his own personal demons at bay.

Although his books are coming out here in backwards chronology, Dead at Daybreak is without question the finest of Meyer's three books.

-Patrick Milliken

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