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Dead at Daybreak    by Deon Meyer order for
Dead at Daybreak
by Deon Meyer
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2005 (2005)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Deon Meyer, author of Heart of the Hunter, writes an intelligent thriller. Like his previous novel, this prequel, Dead at Daybreak, is set in South Africa, and Thobela 'Tiny' Mpayipheli (the Hunter) has a significant part in this story also. It's rather symmetrical, since Zet Van Heerden (who helped Tiny out of his difficulties) has star billing this time around, and needs Tiny's assistance.

Flashbacks show Van Heerden's early life, alternating with later events. His miner father died young and the boy was raised by his artist mother, Joan, a strong character in her own right. An early encounter with the authorities as well as feelings of guilt over the murder of a neighbor, led him into the police force. He went back to school and, after a stint in academia, joined forces with veteran Williem Nagel in a very successful Murder and Robbery partnership. Then Nagel died, Zet quit the police and his life slid downhill. Why? That, and another big question, pull the reader through the story.

A secretive Cape Town antiques dealer, Johannes Smit, is tortured and murdered, and his live-in partner, Wilna van As, hires lovely attorney Hope Beneke to locate the will. She in turn, and somewhat reluctantly, hires Van Heerden, whose attitude does not impress. But he knows his business and starts digging up clues. Soon, he's in conflict with his old police colleagues, Military Intelligence (anxious to keep old secrets hidden), and ruthless mercenaries who threaten the women close to him. Tiny gets involved when Van Heerden seeks help from his criminal boss to protect his mother from the bad guys.

Meyer writes a rich, layered thriller in which fast and often bloodthirsty action is balanced by societal commentary and by the psychological study of a man devastated by his own past choices. I enjoyed Dead at Daybreak even more than Heart of the Hunter, which is saying something.

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