Reading very good crime fiction can take the reader into a different environment, and allow you to forget even for a few seconds the terrible events taking place in a real world that frequently is more terrifying than anything thought up by a fiction writer.
Icarus by Deon Meyer is yet another superb book set in modern South Africa featuring the troubled alcoholic detective Benny Griessel, and his colleague Vaughan Cupido. The story has two strands that come together very satisfactorily at the conclusion of the book.
The major plot has the Hawks-the elite Directorate of the Priority Crimes Investigations, the DCPI- investigating the murder of high flying internet entrepreneur Ernst Richter. Richter’s company Alibi is notorious for arranging cover stories for people having affairs, which means the number of suspects who might want to kill him is quite high. Benny has fallen off the wagon after 602 days sober, because of a traumatic family murder suicide. His partner Vaughan Cupido, a Cape Coloured detective, has to take the lead in the investigation while covering up for his friend Benna.
The subplot is set a few days in the future where wine farmer Francois du Toit narrates a family saga to Advocate Susan Peires in her chambers. Some readers might feel that this lengthy story of farmers, wine and rugby stars slows up the progress of the main narrative but I found it fascinating, and it helped build up the tension.
Advocate Susan Peires SP: Please, Mr du Toit…..
F. du Toit FdT: Call me Francois…..
SP: No, I shall call you Mr du Toit. We are not friends; we are advocate and client. It is an official, professional relationship, for which you will pay me a lot of money.
Immersing the reader into the atmosphere of Deon Meyer’s books is helped by the liberal, but not excessive, use of Afrikaans and some of the Rainbow Nation’s 10 other official languages, as well as township slang. Luckily there is a comprehensive glossary in the back of the book to assist the English speaking reader. Cupido’s efforts to find Richter’s killer are complicated by his attempts to get Benny to get his life back on track, and his strong feelings for the very desirable Desiree Coetzee, the beautiful Cape Coloured woman who in effect ran Alibi for Ernst Richter.
The investigation becomes more complex as Alibi’s clients become concerned that their names would be revealed by someone who had obtained the database of unfaithful spouses.
She told him about the pressure from above. She said the dude doing the database reveal had already exposed one ANC politician, one TV newsreader and a whitey former soap star.
All the complexities of the case come together at the end. Benny continues to fight his alcoholism as his colleagues try to protect him, Cupido wonders if he can form a relationship with Desiree.
Cupido was on the point of saying Let’s go. Because he struggled with impulse control, he wanted to ask Benna, What do you do with a dolly who is out of your league, but you think about her day and night:
With the interesting location in South Africa, the social commentary and with so many other characteristics that I want in a good crime fiction novel I can highly recommend Icarus. This is a series well worth following.