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Monday, May 6, 2013

Blood Safari by Deon Meyer ($7.99, c2007)

A customer from South Africa once came into MBTB's store (in Portland, Oregon!) and said Deon Meyer was the best mystery author in South Africa. At that time it was hard to get copies of his books. It's still not easy, but he thankfully is published in the United States (before his books quickly go out of print). Of everlasting mercy is the fact that most of his books are standalone novels, so a reader won't miss the latest kerfluffle in a series' baseline story, bringing reading to a standstill because of a missing title.

Meyer's books are written in Afrikaans and must be translated into English. As opposed to Afrikaners, the ethnic group of Dutch-descended whites, Afrikaans, a Dutch-descended language, is spoken by a wide group of different ethnicities in South Africa. (For more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afrikaans.) Meyer, who speaks English, has made it a point to publish in Afrikaans. It's important for Meyer's main character in Blood Safari, Lemmer, to speak Afrikaans as a way of negating the bad reputation it has, i.e., it's a common man's language, unsophisticated, not as good as English. Meyer, too, it seems is making a point by publishing in Afrikaans.

Blood Safari is a long book (556 pages in my paperback version). It is divided into three segments. It is like a Tootsie Roll pop: hard on the edges (books 1 and 3) and soft on the inside (book 2). Despite the "thriller" designation, this would be at home on the private eye, hard-boiled shelves.

At first, I thought it was a tough guy, silent hero type of book, à la Clint Eastwood's "Man with No Name" or Lee Child's Jack Reacher. And the first and last parts don't disappoint, if that's the style you want. The soft Tootsie Roll center covers the back story of Lemmer -- who has a first name, but he doesn't like it, so we pass on gratuitously mentioning it. This section lays out why he doesn't like his name, why he is the way he is, why he was in prison, why, why, why, until the center and scenery are all chewed up. It's a sob fest, but a well-written, eye-opening, ingenious sob fest. It is the romantic hero's (but not in a Fabio kind of way) story that makes Meyer's book distinctive and distinguished. 

In brief, Lemmer is an operative for a South African firm that supplies bodyguards and security for (usually) high-level individuals. A woman has hired Lemmer's firm because she was attacked by masked men. She escaped but she suspects they will be back. She thinks it might have something to do with her search for an older brother who disappeared 17 years ago. Lemmer is not a private eye, so he doesn't pretend to help her solve her problem. But when the bad guys have another go and Lemmer is caught in the cross-fire, he now has a personal stake in finding out what is going on.

What is going on is related to several sensitive issues in contemporary Africa: development, environmental impact, wildlife preservation, tribal and ethnic concerns, hold-over ethics and problems from apartheid. Meyer does a standout job of twisting these issues in a nefarious way into his story.

This is worth the 500+-page journey. There's a lot of meat with no filler.

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