Who are the trackers in Deon Meyer's splendid new novel?
Lemmer, a bodyguard who ensures that the privileged in South Africa are protected from those lower down the social scale? Or is it Milla, struggling to break free from an abusive marriage? Or private detective Mat Joubert, helping a young woman find her vanished husband?
It is all three, but another tracker is involved: the reader. Meyer hands us our own assignment. To which of the three labyrinthine plot strands should we pay most attention? Can we sort out what is most important in the mass of local detail and socio-political commentary?
Those who have read earlier Meyer books such as Blood Safari and Thirteen Hours will know that prose. But how fulfilling the rewards are for those seeking crime fiction with real texture and intelligence.
With a divided narrative such as this, it is crucial that the central characters in each storyline command our attention. Milla, coping with her violent spouse, is at the centre of an anti-terrorist operation in Cape Town. Ex-cop Joubert is watching his hopes of a smooth leave-taking from private investigation disappear as the search for a missing husband takes him into some very dark areas. As for the bodyguard Lemmer, his dangerous assignment is to look after two white rhinos smuggled from the brutal regime in Zimbabwe, with fresh memories of his encounters with the legacy of the war in Mozambique.
The author – who writes in Afrikaans, idiomatically translated by K L Seegers – presents an unsparing picture of social divisions in post-apartheid South Africa. They directly create the varieties of crime thrown up in this still-fractured society. But perhaps his key achievement is the astutely drawn trio: the conflicted bodyguard, streetwise but falling for a major deception; the young woman fleeing a desperately unhappy marriage and discovering something that changes her perception of herself; and the ex-cop, finding that the incendiary reserves of violence in his personality are nearer to the surface than he thought. Trackers is a sprawling, invigorating and socially committed crime novel.
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