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A medley of the good and the bad
on 15 August 2011
`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.