Book review: Trackers by Deon Meyer

by Deon Meyer
Translated by Laura Seegers (from Afrikaans)
Hodder & Stoughton, 2011

Deon Meyer just goes from strength to strength. I think this book may be the best thriller I’ve ever read. His great, loose set of novels about modern South Africa are a perfect mix of thrills, entertainment, emotional grip, and socio-political analsyis.

In previous books, Meyer has used the transformation of the police force from a hierarchical, all-white body into a multi-cultural, politically correct organisation, to confront different perspectives and assumptions people make about modern South Africa (for example its widely reported high crime rate). In other novels, he’s used a “PI” style device to similar effect, highlighting for example the gated communities in which people with money live set apart from most of the population (perpetuating the white/black divide) and the wild-animal/safari business with its associated tensions between preservation of natural resources and recreational sports such as hunting.

In Trackers, superbly translated from the Afrikaans as ever by Laura Seegers, Meyer combines these elements in a novel of several distinct sections. Each section concerns an apparently different story, linked by various interpretations of “tracking” from ancient to modern. We as readers know these stories are going to be related, but not how – and this is part of the constant tension of this marvellous novel. I won’t reveal the plot here as I don’t want to spoil anyone’s enjoyment of the book and its various shocks of discovery, but part of it involves a government surveillance unit, with a moving story about a 40-something housewife desperate for liberation from her ghastly husband and son. Other parts re-introduce us to previous characters (Lemmer from Blood Safari and Matt Joubert from several previous novels, now retired from the police force and starting a new job in security) – but not having read earlier books does not detract from one’s enjoyment of this one, which has the reader desperate to know the outcomes of the various stories, and what happens to the characters.

In the end, the denouement is based on a slightly dated punchline – through no fault of the author, but a victim of the delays in the publication process. Even so, it packs a wallop, not in itself but in the outcome for some of the characters. Just enough details are tied up to provide a satisfactory finale, yet there are sufficient loose ends to make the reader extremely keen to read Deon Meyer’s next book (though for sure it will not be a linear sequel to this one – this author is too clever for that). And that, of course, is the tracker’s lot – not to know the full story even if the trail being followed does lead to what is being sought in the narrow sense.

I obtained this (print) book free of charge via the Amazon Vine programme.

Deon Meyer’s very good website, including synopses of all his books and some interesting background information.

Trackers has been reviewed by Glenn Harper at International Noir Fiction, and by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.

[The picture of the book here is almost but not exactly of the copy I was sent, which was marred by a sticker with the slogan “South Africa’s answer to Stieg Larsson”. How ridiculous!]

14 thoughts on “Book review: Trackers by Deon Meyer

  1. I loved this book – I really couldn’t put it down, it brings life to the old reviewing cliches “gripping” and “mesmerizing”! What a good book…

  2. Maxine – Thanks, as ever, for an excellent review! Deon Meyer is one of those thriller authors who renews one’s faith in the thriller as a vehicle for telling a good story with lots in it while still maintaining the “thriller” pace and so on. I confess I haven’t got hold of this one yet (although I will!), but from your comments, I can tell that I will not be disappointed.

  3. Oh, the TBR list just exploded from the combustion of too many great titles vs. budgetary concerns! One more on the list. Hope the library will get this — and soon. There goes my reading plan!

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