7 Days >Deon Meyer Hodder & Stoughton, London, 2012
The impressive twilight vista of South Africa's Table Top Mountain, with the lights of Cape Town twinkling below, makes for an attractive cover for Deon Meyer's 7 Days.
What's inside often contrasts with the beauty of the cover, but it never disappoints.
Translated from Afrikaans, Meyer's fallible but hardworking detectives must solve a recent 'cold case', under mounting pressure from a vigilante gunman.
An ambitious and talented lawyer, Hanneke Sloet was murdered with a single, deep stab wound to the abdomen. The case is unsolved and almost forgotten when the police receive a threatening email:
"Today I will shoot a policeman... and every day I will shoot a policeman, until you charge the murderer."
The rogue gunman contends that the police have covered up the Sloet murder and that they must inform the media that the case has been reopened and expose the killer.
The Sloet case thrusts Captain Benny Griessel into a race against time to determine why the murder was committed and by whom. Meyer offers prospective suspects and small clues but Griessel is frustrated by many alibis and twists.
Trying to put the pieces together while attempting to keep his love interest safe, counsel his son on why he shouldn't get a tattoo, or delve into the background of his daughter's new Neanderthal-like, rugby-playing boyfriend provide plenty of challenges for the captain.
Self-doubt and fatigue hamper him, as does the temptation to break his 220 days without booze.
With so many characters, including suspects, police, family, witnesses and politicians involved, Meyer adroitly manages to reveal each of them in sufficient detail without burdening the reader.
The hunt for the vigilante shooter is entwined with the Sloet case while Mbali Kaleni, the plump, prickly but methodical Detective Captain tirelessly pursues the shooter.
The time-consuming 'leg-work' required to narrow down suspects' movements, motives and alibis are well handled by Meyer as, when the action tapers off, the tension and intrigue doesn't.
The different backgrounds, ethnicities, languages and living conditions emphasise the 'melting pot' of the South African setting. As do the colloquial phrases and numerous acronyms for various police departments.
The glossary is useful but not something you want to be referring to in a high-speed thriller.
It's not often necessary to decipher these acronyms and foreign phrases as most can be read over with contextual clues. The ones that can't are cumbersome.
Meyer's social commentary reflects on the prejudices that still exist in South Africa, both gender and racial, whether it be a sexist remark about Kaleni or the need for Griessel to have a black detective with him on his way to interview a black suspect.
There is also the distraction and pressure that the media impose as they question the efficacy and commitment of the police. Griessel's superiors are constantly aware of this public demand and the need for a quick resolution.
7 Days is the first Deon Meyer crime novel I've read -- but there's plenty to enthuse about, so I'm sure it won't be the last one I enjoy.