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Heart of the Hunter    by Deon Meyer order for
Heart of the Hunter
by Deon Meyer
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2004 (2004)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Thobela 'Tiny' Mpayipheli is 6' 3" tall. After years working overseas as a government assassin, and a stint as an enforcer for organized crime, he's settled down into a quiet satisfying life with the love of his life, Miriam, and her son Pakamile.

Unfortunately, tendrils from his past pull Tiny back into the violent life he'd hoped to leave behind forever. An old friend, to whom Tiny is indebted, is kidnapped, and his daughter Monica begs Mpayipheli's help in delivering the ransom - a hard drive full of embarassing state secrets - to Zambia. Soon, both the nation's police force and its spooks are on Tiny's trail as he rides a borrowed big yellow BMW motorbike cross-country in a race against time for an old friend's life. Always close (behind or ahead of him) is Captain Tiger Mazibuko, trigger happy head of the intelligence agency's 'Reaction Unit' and with a lot in common with a younger Mpayipheli. But soon Tiny realizes that he still retains 'the heart of the hunter', from his heritage as a Xhosa warrior and a descendant of the royal line.

Janina Mentz - a white woman in a black administration, who is desperate to prove herself as head of the country's new Presidential Intelligence Unit - orders actions that don't bear close scrutiny. Tiny's Miriam aptly wonders, 'This country. Would it never stop banging on your door in the middle of the night? Would the ledger of the past never be closed?', and despairs when she herself is questioned. Another player pulled into this shocking ride through South Africa is Cape Times crime reporter Allison Healy, who writes stories about the 'big, bad Xhosa biker' and shines light on government actions in the case. She eventually digs up Tiny's old colleague and friend, Van Heerden, and is pulled closer to the action than she anticipated. There are a variety of plots, betrayals and misdirection, all revolving around a spy named 'Inkululeko' (the Zulu word for freedom). On the periphery are both the CIA and Muslim extremists.

Tiny rides on, despite daunting weather and wounds of battle. When he reaches his destination, he concludes that 'It's not what I am that is wrong. It is what I use it for. Or let it be used for.' And he finally comes in from the cold. Heart of the Hunter is a gripping, realistic thriller, an excellent read.

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