An exceptional thriller: Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer

April 8, 2011 at 1:59 pm (Book review, books, Mystery fiction)

For some time now I’ve been reading glowing reviews of the novels of Deon Meyer. I had not read the books because their South African setting did not interest me – or so I thought. But Deon Meyer will be at the Bristol Crimefest next month – and so will we! So I tackled his latest, Thirteen Hours. This turned out to be a real seat-of-your-pants thrill ride, so hard to put down that I pretty much didn’t until I finished it.

South African police have their hands full with two high profile homicides to investigate. One involves the murder of a wayward pop star whose body is found in his home, in the same room with his almost insensate, seriously inebriated wife. The other murder victim is an American teenager. Police soon discover that this hapless young woman had a traveling companion named Rachel Anderson. Rachel has disappeared and police need to find her. They soon discover that she has gone missing quite deliberately: she is running for her life, with some very dangerous men in hot pursuit. To make matters worse, she thinks that the police are in league with these ruthless thugs. It turns out that her fears on that score are not groundless.

Meyer paints a fascinating portrait of contemporary South Africa. I was particularly intrigued by the multiplicity of languages spoken by the various characters. Upon consulting Wikipedia, I learned that South Africa now has eleven official languages, as opposed to the two – English and Afrikaans – so designated  before 1994. That was the year of the first South African election to include universal suffrage; this landmark event heralded the end of the hated system of apartheid.

According to Meyer’s depiction of present day conditions in the country, divisiveness and racial classification still persist. The novel’s characters frequently allude to “the new South Africa,” often with irony and even bitterness.When  “coloured” detective Fransman Dekker calls a woman of similar ethnicity “sister,” she lashes out at him:

‘You want to “brother” and “sister” us all. You want us to be a separate tribe, us coloureds; you’re the kind who goes around complaining how hard it is to be a coloured…. That’s the trouble with this country, everyone wants to complain, nobody wants to do anything, nobody wants to forget  the past.

Few who lived through it in the early 1990s will ever forget the drama of apartheid’s defeat. Yet since that time, South Africa has not received much press coverage, at least not in this country. So it was with considerable interest that I read about the issues confronting that nation today. I must stress once again, though, that Thirteen Hours is primarily a thriller, not a sociological treatise. With his deft use of the elements of both, Deon Meyer has produced an unusually compelling work of crime fiction. I’ll certainly be back for more!

Deon Meyer


  1. Kerrie said,

    Roberta, I’ll be at CrimeFest too – and so will Dorte. Glad you liked Thirteen Hours

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Oh, Kerrie; that is great! I look forward to meeting you there.

  2. Margaret @ BooksPlease said,

    Oh I wish I could be at CrimeFest too and meet up with you all!

    Have a great time – and write about it, please.

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Margaret, It certainly would have been wonderful to meet you at Crimefest. In fact, it would be wonderful to meet you period! I hope to be visiting England more frequently now; perhaps we could arrange something at a future time…


  3. stefan hansson said,

    Hi Deon

    I like your books, first I read 13 hrs in Swedish, then the rest in a mixture English Swedish. I really like the way you describe SA today.
    By the way I do appreciate the recipes randomly occuring in your books

    best regards

    Stefan Hansson, Stockholm

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