48. – 680.) Seven Days by Deon Meyer – Captain Bennie Griessel of the elite Hawks unit of the SAPS (South African Police Services) crashed at 45. After years of his alcohol abuse his wife ended their marriage. With his life in shambles his superiors gave him a final chance but he would have to stop drinking. Griessel quit. As the book opens he has not had a drink for 226 days. He now lives in a tiny apartment with a few clothes. He is working to reassemble his life. He has met the singer Alexa Barnard at AA, another recovering alcoholic, and a tentative relationship has begun. This fragile existence is thrown into turmoil.
He is made the lead investigator into the second investigation of the death of Hanneke Sloet, a lovely young lawyer. The initial investigation had been unsuccessful. Now anonymous emails are threatening the police if they do not arrest the killer. The writer asserts the police are corrupt and concealing the killer, a communist. When the writer shoots a random police officer the whole police department is made available for the investigation.
The same evening Barnard, overwhelmed with feelings of insecurity, starts drinking again. Griessel stays with her overnight to attempt to return her to sobriety.
Griessel wants to help Barnard but his time is consumed by the investigation for the sniper, dubbed Solomon by the press because of quotes from the Bible in his emails, has vowed to shoot an officer each day.
Griessel hesitates a few minutes before reading the personal documents collected about Sloet:
Sloet would become flesh and blood, a person with a life, with emotions and regrets and few secrets. It would rob him of his distance, his objectivity, it would all become that bit more personal. That was where the trouble lay, the root of the evil. Because he knew what came next. The case had been easier from the start. He hadn’t been at the scene of the murder. He hadn’t stood beside her, and seen the terrible fragility of the female body, her expression caught at the moment of death. He hadn’t smelled the blood and perfume and decomposition. He hadn’t lived her last moments with her in his mind, felt her acute fear of the darkness of death, or heard the silent scream they all uttered when they lost that final grip on life.
As he looks into Sloet’s life there is no immediate focus point for someone to kill her. Her last serious relationship ended almost a year earlier. She is doing very well at work. Her family and friends cannot identify a danger to her. She was totally dedicated to her work and rising quickly in the law firm.
Yet the killer must have been well known to her. She opened the door and there are no defensive wounds or any sign of a struggle.
Griessel finds himself in an unknown world when he tries to understand her work. She has been working on a complex multi-billion rand business deal under the Black Economic Empowerment program. With the vast sums involved he finds connections to people he would not have expected to be players in major finance.
As the police seek to penetrate the world of big South African finance Solomon’s daily deadline adds an almost unbearable urgency.
Griessel wants to do more for Barnard but can barely find the time to leave messages.
He is further challenged by the need to explore Sloet’s participation in the current social media of our day. While in his alcoholic mist he lost touch with developments such as Facebook and Twitter.
I found it interesting how the SAPS of the 21st Century has the formerly segregated white, black and coloured of South Africa now working together as opposed to the mysteries of Malla Nunn of the mid-1950’s where only white officers were in charge.
It is a rare book that combines mystery and thriller with equal skill. When I read earlier this year Taken by Robert Crais and Hell is Empty by Craig Johnson, those accomplished mystery writers had written excellent thrillers but the mystery had been lost. Meyer maintains the pace of a thriller with the puzzle of a mystery.
The first book of Meyer I read was Blood Safari. It was a good book but no better to me. The second was Trackers which I found an excellent book. With Seven Days he has ascended to a great book. There are fascinating characters in the midst of a strong mystery with Solomon day by day ratcheting up the tension. I expect Seven Days will be a contender for a slew of book awards. (Oct. 28/12)