Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Icarus by Deon Meyer

Deon Meyer is South Africa’s preeminent mystery/thriller writer and something of a wonder. His books have a richness and specificity that bring South Africa (and crimes committed there) vividly to life. This installment of the Benny Greissel series braids several strands of mystery into a single blood-red cord of baling twine from the wine country of Stellenbosch.

Meyer often posts on his website photos of the locales, restaurants, buildings he uses in his novels, and he did in the case of Icarus as well. The site of the action is South Africa’s western Cape near Cape Town.

A large storm in December reveals the body of an internet entrepreneur buried in the sand of Blouberg Strand. Ernst Richter ran Alibi.com, a South African-based website based on the success of AshleyMadison.com, a company promising discretion when arranging infidelities. The manner of his death ties him firmly to the wine country in Stellenbosch, but in the weeks leading to the Christmas holidays, we are turned in many directions, often away from the truth.

Meyer often has several threads working at once in his novels, and this book is no exception. Deliciously, Meyer shares the personalities of the police and how their prejudices, weaknesses, and particular skills influence an investigation. Benny Griessel struggles with alcohol addiction and falls off the wagon when a colleague dies tragically. The description of his ever-present desire and of his failure is agonizingly real.

Griessel’s colleague, Jamie Keyter, will do just about anything to be in the limelight of newspaper reporting, even if it means selling his team down the river. Another colleague, Vaughn Cupido, falls hard for someone he questions during the murder investigation.

While the murder investigation plays itself out, we are treated to a plausible explanation of the unreasonably high subscription numbers of Alibi.com (and by association the AshleyMadison.com), and a realistic scenario for the sites’ growth and financial requirements. Finally, we also get a fascinating short history of wine production in South Africa.

Meyer keeps readers off-balance throughout the novel with rapid and abrupt shifts between strands: the quiet droning of a man relating his family’s genealogy; the drunken stumbling of Benny Griessel on the edge of losing everything; the start-stop of an investigation where so many have things they wish to hide.

If you haven’t already enjoyed Deon Meyer’s oeuvre, feel free to start here. It is often years between novels, and to discover a new Meyer book is an event. Add Meyer to your list and get a whole different outlook. This book will be published October 6, 2015 by Grove Atlantic, but I am telling you about it now because it is being offered as a giveaway currently on Goodreads. I definitely recommend you sign up.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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