Thursday, October 25, 2018

Hearing: "Dead Before Dying" by Deon Meyer

Hearing: Dead Before Dying by Deon Meyer, 1996, download from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Translated from Afrikaans. Focusing on Mat Joubert who is now two years past his Police Officer wife's murder. Mat is a heavy drinker, a heavy smoker, and 30 pounds overweight. His police investigative work has suffered and now a new commanding officer is telling the men to lose weight, see the doctor, and reduce stress.

Meyer tells another great story of South Africa. This is set in 1996 when Apartheid has been dismantled but the government and institutions are still building back up. Most people in the police service get along fine. After all it is the police and against every one else but there is some tension along color lines. Black people want to be taken seriously as professionals. White people don't want their dedication to work and justice to be overlooked.

Mat ends up covering two cases with big press. A serial bank robber uses professional disguises and focuses on the branches of one bank. A serial killer is murdering people with the same pistol but Mat and Co. cannot find a link among the victims. As the press gets excited Mat gets more pressure from his superiors. His new boss, Colonel WhatHisName, is a former ANC member who lived in exile in England. The Colonel has been promoted and feels a pressure that people think it was a political appointment. The General at the top feels the political pressure from the press.

Meanwhile, the cops at the bottom are going through the standard police procedure: they talk. They talk and talk and talk to everyone they can think of. They arrive at new crime scenes and investigate the evidence. They theorize ideas among each other. They track down and visit every gun dealer and registered owner they can. They go back and talk to everyone a second and third time.

This novel really, really reminds me of the Sjowall and Wahloo police novels set in 1960s and 1970s Stockholm. There is a neat balance among a few characters with a focus on the cops. Meyer takes a few 1st person forays into the victims and witnesses as he builds the story. He incorporates the way the staid and conservative police service is effected by the political changes going around it.

Meyer has the reader spending a lot of time with Joubert. He's been a emotional shut-in since his wife's line-of-duty murder. When an 18-year-old hotty neighbor comes on to Joubert at a neighborhood barbecue the romantically awkward , 34-year-old Joubert is taken aback. But, that attention and affection from the neighbor awakens Joubert's sexuality and he starts lusting after most women he meets, including his new psychologist, a widow of the serial killer, a consulting criminologist, and more.

1. Ever since reading Deon Meyer and Roger Smith novels I've paid more attention to news from SA. Modern day South Africa still uses a lot of cash money. Cash in Transit (CIT) heists of armored cars is still a thing. A few years ago the robbers would force a truck off the road and shoot it up. Now, the robber gangs are well drilled, armed with rifles, take over a whole traffic area to rob a truck, and use explosives to blast the trucks open.
2. We also meet up with Benny Griessel who is a raging drunk and goes into a sanatorium to dry out before Joubert puts him in charge of the bank robbery investigation - which Benny solves. This is nine years before Benny finally dries out in Devil's Peak.
3. I tried reading the ebook of Behind the Badge about the South African Police Service (SAPS) but never got anywhere. I have too many print books I never get to.
4. Well, Goddamn, I have a audiobook entitled The Blood of an Englishman saved on my phone. That novel just came up when searching for the book listed in #3 above. I was wondering how I picked that one. I had forgotten the book is a crime novel set in apartheid era SA.

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