Deon Meyer just goes from strength to strength. His great, loose set of novels about modern South Africa are a perfect mix of thrills, entertainment, emotional grip, and socio-political analysis. 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 ethics of gated communities and wild-animal/safari business. 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 the plot 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 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. 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 necessarily 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).
Trackers is the first novel by Deon Meyer that I've read, so I can't compare it to any previous works. What I can say is that, structually, it has to be the most original thriller I've read in a long time. Its as if Meyer is channelling Raymond Carver, the author of Short Cuts, with the book's three separate yet interconnected novellas (one of which is separated into two parts by one of the other stories) and multiple recurring characters.
Some may find this structure unsatisfactory or off-putting. Personally I found it refreshing, although I wouldn't want every book to be similarly fragmented. It effectively allows Meyer to create a collection of short stories, a tricky form that the author handles well, but simultaneously craft them into a something approaching a cohesive full length novel.
As with many short story collections some entries are more successful than others. Personally I found the stories featuring Lemmer and Joubert more satisfying than the divided tale set around the PIA, although others might disagree. I never really connected with the PIA story or the motivations of the characters involved. The terrorist threat being investigated remained too insubstantial and convoluted to really have much impact and the actions of Milla and her decision to go on the run didn't stike me as logical or plausible.
The Lemmer and Joubert stories worked far better for me, even if one remained frustratingly yet enticeingly open ended. It could be that it Meyers familiarity with the both characters, who have apparently appeared in previous novels such as Blood Safari and Dead Before Dying (Coronet books), that makes theses two stories flow better but being new to the author's work I can't be certain. All I do know is that I want to know how Lemmer's pursuit of Flea goes and I'll be adding Blood Safari and some of Joubert's previous adventures to my 'to-be-read' list.
So overall this was a pleasantly enjoyable introduction to Deon Meyer and gave me a flavour of the sorts of stories the author writes. It will be interesting to see whether I get similar enjoyment out of his full length novels when I tackle one.
on 30 October 2011
Trackers clearly demonstrates that Meyer is the best of the best of today's mystery/thriller authors. This is a powerful novel with super characterization, compelling pacing and vivid settings.
Trackers contains a multi-dimensional cast of fascinating characters, many of whom have appeared in the author's prior six novels, that intersects through plot lines involving espionage, international terrorism, smuggling, criminal gangs and the workings of a private eye. A number of the individuals and groups featured in Trackers are engaged in the act of tracking different things that are important in their lives while having to content with the consequences of unforeseeable events. Throughout, it is obvious that the author is a fan of Nassin Nicholas Taleb's non-fiction book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.
While Trackers is set in South Africa, there is a global or universal dimension to most of the novel. The first main character, Milla Strachan, flees an abusive husband and teenage son to try to regain control over her life. Milla takes a position at an unnamed government agency that turns out to be a department of the Presidential Intelligence Agency whose mission is to track a Muslin terrorist group with ties to al-Qaeda. Milla later strikes out on her own with an international smuggler of artifacts.
The second main character, simply known as Lemmer, is hired to bodyguard a shipment of two black rhinos, being smuggled into South Africa from Zimbabwe for a wealthy Afrikaaner farmer. These "Hook Lip" rhinos are fast becoming extinct. Accompanying the rhinos is Flea van Jaarsveld, posing as a veterinarian, but actually a professional tracker with her own undisclosed agenda. In the middle of its 1,500 kilometer journey, the truck carrying the rhinos is intercepted by a Cape Town criminal gang looking for something hidden in the shipment.
The third main character, Mat Joubert, an ex-police superintendent, is newly hired by a private detective agency and assigned to find a missing husband. Joubert's case ends up being connected with the same criminal gang that held up the rhino shipment. Yes, Meyer makes sense of it all in the final chapters of Trackers.
With each new novel, Meyer's writing just gets stronger and more accomplished. He brings a keen, wide-angle perspective of the forces buffeting the world today to his plots plus a sensitive, deft understanding of personal relationships in his characterizations. In the process, the reader gains an appreciation of the past and current struggles besetting South Africa. When I finished reading Trackers, in a few days I wanted to read all 488 pages of the book again.
on 25 August 2013
Among his many other virtues as a writer, Deon Meyer has become known for stunning plots that operate like precision machinery, and a level of formal experimentation that would be beyond many so-called "serious" novelists.
"Trackers" takes this to daring and virtuoso extremes. Essentially, the book consists of two short novels and a novella, involving some of the same characters, with linked plots, and a series of variations of almost Bach-like complexity on the theme of tracking.The latter includes everything from literal tracking of animals to the most recent electronic tracking of people and even of ideas. Just about every form of written and spoken communication is included as well, from SMSs and emails to diaries, photocopied journals,intercepted messages, bugged conversations and even a fictional treatment by one of the main characters of what is, after all, a fictional story.
It's dazzling,and if it doesn't entirely work, that's not surprising. There are some loose ends (unusually for Meyer) and some parts are more convincing than others. But I doubt if you'll read a more ambitious and effective piece of genre fiction this year, or probably until his next book.
A word of praise also for the translation, which manages to capture the authentic rhythms of South African speech in a way that is note-perfect.
on 28 February 2014
This was my least favourite Dion Meyer book. He usually runs two or three themes at the same time and jumps from one to the other, tying them all together at the end.
In this book the various themes were too separated and rather than being fresh in ones memory were effectively finished and then left till the last couple of pages to link them together.
I found it very difficult to try and remember the various names and characters then.
`Trackers' is very much a book of four loosely linked sections, and as such reads more like a collection of novellas than one defined novel. Each section switches plot, narrator and literary style, and whilst this does make the book more varied, there are clearly areas the author excels at and some that they don't. The problem is that there are just as many bad devices caught up in the melee of styles as there are good.
The first section serves as an introduction to the incredibly large cast that appears in most of the book, particularly the third section. Most characters are interesting, but as is inevitable with such a mixed and sizeable cast the reader is left wanting more character development on a number of fronts - and less on others. Equally, less description of the internal structure of a terrorist organisation would be desired. Not because I'd rather not know, but because reams and reams of text are spent giving very little information that actually moves the plot onwards at all. This is definitely the weakest section of the book, and at some points when reading it I was thoroughly disenchanted with the whole thing. A pretty poor opening.
Next we switch narrators - and plots - to an altogether more thought-out and interesting concept. We are introduced to Lemmer, who is effectively a mercenary, hired unwittingly to be a part of a smuggling mission. Here the author adopts the first person viewpoint, and this is a device that really seems to work. Not only does the reader care about the main character, but the action scenes flow with great pace and character development is much more evenly spread. I would say this was the most entertaining section of the book, and certainly reenthused me for the rest of the read. It does make me wonder why we had to be subjected to the drudgery of the first eighty pages though. The story does tie in to some of the characters introduced in the first section of the book, but only very loosely. I would say it was more like reading a collection of stories a la John Grisham or Terry Pratchett with recurring characters but largely unlinked plots. I would much rather have stuck with this story arc for the whole novel, as it never really gets a satisfactory ending, just sort of a tacked on bit in the last few pages.
Meyer then shifts back to the primary plot of the book, and the third person narrative. But this time it is an altogether more focused effort. This is where we really get to know some characters, and are introduced to the tale of two people in love attempting to evade the law. There are obviously many complications, and a leading character in this section that is actually interesting to follow in her adventures (Milla). We still have the over peopled main plot developing here, which thankfully took a backseat in the second section. It's back with a vengeance, and the spies working on it are fairly uninteresting compared to most of the other characters, which is a shame as the actual bones of the plot are in no way flawed. The section ends with a somewhat unexpected twist, but then climaxes with a frankly ridiculous notion that requires a great suspension of disbelief. Once again we are left with matters unconcluded. Maybe they'll all come together in the fourth part? No.
In the fourth section of the book, we are introduced to a completely new, and thankfully much smaller, cast of characters. The reader follows around a former police officer now moved into the private sector, and the book is an interesting study in the differences between the two fields. However, the author does have a tendency to fall into the literary trap of making her character too nice; and so the reader is treated to the endless gesticulations of an unrealistic conscience. That said, the character is otherwise hugely likeable, the plot moves along at a good pace and does keep the reader guessing. The section finishes with a tacked-on resolution trying hopelessly to tie together every plot strand left throughout the sizeable tome. This never really happens, which is a shame as there are some genuinely amazing characters in the book.
In concluding, Deon Meyer has written a short novel collection and introduced it as a novel. This is not a major issue, save for the fact that some characters are incredibly bland to read (how can a spy network read like an accountant?) and one section of the book is a grossly misjudged introduction. Perhaps I am coming across overly harsh of the book. It is something I would recommend to a friend (just about) and I did enjoy my time with the book, it could just be so much better. And that's the real issue - this book had the potential to be a masterpiece, with the right changes. As it stands we have a better-then-average read that in all honesty only deserves 3 stars. And why the most entertaining character in the book only got one section is completely beyond me.
on 25 April 2012
How does this man manage to put so much into a book and then somehow get a conclusion that makes sense? Deon Meyer manages to tell us different stories - all seem to be totally unrelated - until the end and then suddenly you think "Ah! Yes it all makes sense now."
The story starts with Milla Strachan, an abused, bored, very sad and lonely married woman who lives in Durbanville. Her husband is wealthy, but shows no love and is always having affairs. Her son, following in his father's footsteps shows no respect and treats her like a slave. She wakes up one morning and decides that enough is enough and packs a bag and leaves. She had studied journalism at university and finds a job working for PIA (Presidential Intelligence Agency). Her job there is to dig up information on people suspected of terrorism or other crimes.
Lemmer, who we met last in Blood Safari, is asked by a farmer in Loxton, to fly to Mpumalanga to help bring two black rhinos to his farm in the Bo-Karoo.
Cornel van Jaarsveld, supposed rhino expert, who uses the rhinos to smuggle diamonds
Joubert, a retired SA policeman, now a private eye is asked to trace Tanya Flint's husband.
Janina Mentz, head of the PIA, must find what a group of extremist Muslims are planning. Somehow all these people and situations link with one another.
Deon Meyer, you are my newest hero among authors. This is my third Deon Meyer book. They are all different.You know if you start one of his books that you will be going on a journey, not always pleasant, but definitely exciting. I loved this book and can't wait to get my hands on more written by this Paarlite. Wish I'd met him when I lived there!
Trackers by Deon Meyer started off slow but then just got better and better.
The font size is pretty small for this paperback book, so beware if you prefer large print books. With the small font and 480 pages, this is not a short story!
The story is split into 3 parts. Part 1 carries on for the first 80 pages and introduces the Muslim terrorists who are being watched by the South African secret service (PIA), the disaffected housewife Milla Strachan, and the local gang called The Ravens. This first part was a bit slow and disjointed, and to be honest I thought about dropping the book as being too dull. Thank heavens for Part 2 that follows the all-action hero Lemmer as he is recruited by the farmer and entrepreneur, Diederik Brand, as a guard for the shipment of his precious cargo. Here is the fast paced action that I enjoy, without consecutive plot lines running at the same time, just Lemmer, straight talking and fists flying. Following this is part 3 that returns to Milla Strachan who is now in the thick end of the action as she gets tangled up with Lukas Becker, a mysterious man after his money that he thinks is being held by The Ravens. This then leads on to the final part 4 where we follow Mat Joubert the retired policeman now working as a PI in the private sector as he tries to track a missing person. Here the action comes thick and fast and the loose threads now come together in a pulsating finale. I must have read the last the last 150 pages of part 4 in just a few days.
If the first part had been edited down, then this book would have been an easy 5 stars, but due to the slow and meandering start, 4 stars is about right.
on 29 September 2011
Trackers, with four loosely related plots and some great action, is an ambitious thriller from South African Deon Meyer. Thankfully, Meyer lives up to the ambition and has created a taut, compelling thriller that gets better and better as the book goes on.
One plot involves the South African government security forces, who recruit as a researcher Milla, an abused housewife just setting up home on her own after having escaped her husband. Alongside this the book follows the top brass at the same security forces.
A further plot follows Lemmer, a man with a violent past who is doing all he can to escape that past, yet is drawn back towards violence when he is employed to smuggle two rhinos from Zimbabwe into South Africa.
Then again, there is a plot about a radical Islamic terror cell in South Africa, and a mysterious cargo that they are delivering somewhere along the coast.
Finally, there is a plot about Mat Joubert, a character from previous books by Meyer, who is just starting work as a private security consultant and is trying to help a young wife find her missing husband.
These stories weave together just enough for the conclusion to be satisfying, even if one aspect of it is unexpectedly dated by recent real-world events (through no fault of the author's). The pace of the book is excellent, with Meyer maintaining the suspense throughout, and quickly overcoming the drop in excitement each time a new subplot starts.
I have two gripes, though, which is why I've given the book four stars not five:
- I found the language a little wooden at times - I thought it could have been translated more sympathetically (although I'm sure some will disagree with me!)
- The references to 'the art of tracking' at the start of each chapter of one of the subplots (the one involving Lemmer) just didn't work for me - the quotes were anodyne and a bit cheesy, detracting from my enjoyment of that subplot.
Overall, though, these minor gripes don't take away from my enjoyment and hearty recommendation of this book - I'll definitely be looking out for more novels from Deon Meyer!
Another first time author for me and, although I've watched a couple of so-so DVDs based in South Africa, this is my first foray into a crime thriller novel.
It's actually a set of four short stories. Normally, I don't much care for them and had I known about the structure of this book, I may well have passed it by. However, because the stories all come together at the end, it does work pretty well. Whether or not the ending is quite up to the mark is a matter which others may well comment upon. For me, it's rather unfortunate that the real world overtook the result.
Within the stories are several characters I found interesting - Lemmer, for one and I gather he's been in another book, so it forestalls my suggestion that he could feature on his own. Joubert, too, could be more than a match for The No.1 Detective Agency (!). And, of course, Cornelia van Jaarsveld who seems more than a match for everybody.
This book has an interesting take on its main plot - albeit a plot which features fairly briefly in the scheme of things. Events have overtaken the author's idea which is always a problem with setting the scene in today's volatile terrorist climate. Either way, it was good riddance to bad rubbish.
I hope to read more of this author's view of South Africa and its bent politicians, corrupt police, since I can imagine not all are like this. Having just read Ernesto Mallo's story set in Argentina involving corrupt coppers, politicians, etc., it makes living in the UK seem a doddle, more or less.
And, as ever, congrats to the translator, K.L.Seegers, who has done a great job putting this into an exciting story from the original Afrikaans. I really do look forward to the author's next novel, though I'm loathe to backtrack to find the earlier books, despite my fondness for the title of this book!