Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer (translated from Afrikaans by K L Seegers) is a great book. I was engrossed in it right from the start. It’s tense, taut and utterly enthralling. Moving at a fast pace the book follows the events during the thirteen hours from 05:36 when Rachel, a young American girl is running for her life up the steep slope of Lion’s Head in Capetown. The body of another American girl is found outside the Lutheran church in Long Street. Her throat slit had been slit. An hour or so later Alexandra Barnard, a former singing star and an alcoholic, wakes from a drunken stupor to find the dead body of her husband, a record producer, lying on the floor opposite her and his pistol lying next to her.
It’s not just the story that makes this book such a gripping read, but the characters are so well-drawn too. DI Benny Griessel is mentoring two inexperienced detectives who are investigating these crimes. I grew very fond of Benny, who is also an alcoholic and struggling to keep his marriage together. He deals with mentoring his charges very well, with patience and expertise, but also gets emotionally involved when Rachel’s father entreats him to save his daughter. There are many other memorable characters, such as Inspector Mbali Kaleni, a Zulu woman with a powerful personality who commands people’s attention, and the elderly Piet van der Lingen, who helped Rachel, looking like an ‘aged monk with his thinning grey hair around the bald spot that shone in the flourescent light.’
The two cases move along parallel to each other, keeping me desperate to know what happened next in both. The book also reflects the racial tension in the ‘new South Africa’ with its mix of white, coloured and black South Africans. There is a strong sense of location, not just from the cultural aspect but also geographical because although I know nothing about Capetown I had no difficulty in visualising the scenes from Meyer’s descriptions.
Without doubt this has to be one of the best books I’ve read this year, one that had me eager to get back to it each time I had to stop reading.