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Dead Before Dying    by Deon Meyer order for
Dead Before Dying
by Deon Meyer
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2006 (2006)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Deon Meyer moved immediately onto my must read thriller list with his lightning-paced Heart of the Hunter, followed by the richly layered Dead at Daybreak. Though I didn't enjoy Dead Before Dying quite as much as the first two books, I'll still rush to read whatever this author writes next - for his intelligent plots, social commentary, and psychological insights.

South African cop Mat Joubert, a South African Murder and Robbery Captain and an SF fan, is another complex protagonist. He's been depressed and less than fully functional in both job and daily life since the death of his wife Lara. A fellow officer, she was killed while working undercover, and her death has haunted Mat ever since - the circumstances are only revealed late in the story.

As a new year unfolds, many things change for Mat. His neighbor's teen daughter Yvonne arouses his long quiescent lust and there's a new boss at work, a political appointment. Colonel Bart de Wit is an unimpressive figure, who demands loyalty, dedication, and 'physical and mental health' from his detectives. The Colonel sends Mat to a clinical psychologist, Dr. Hanna Nortier, whom he finds attractive, and who is able to help him.

While working on his mental health and gradually rediscovering an interest in life and his job skills, Mat takes on two major cases. In the first, an attractive man tagged by the media as The Sweetheart Robber, charms tellers while robbing banks. The second starts with the shooting of a rich white man beside his BMW.

While the Colonel confuses the issue by postulating the Chinese mafia to the media and consulting a clairvoyant, there are more killings - though the weapon (an antique Mauser pistol) is the same, the victims seem totally unrelated. There's a mass mail distributor, a jeweler, a carpenter, a fisherman, and a hairdresser. What can they have in common? Of course, Mat eventually finds out in a shocking denouement, that caught me totally off guard.

In Dead Before Dying, Deon Meyer delivers another gripping psychological mystery set in South Africa. It's about revenge, redemption, and the gradual fanning of love from the embers of two charred hearts.

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