Benny Griessel

And who is Benny Griessel? He is the policeman at the centre of two books I have just finished reading, written by Deon Meyer, and set in South Africa.

Devil’s Peak

There’s a vigilante going around killing (accused) molesters and murderers of children. There’s a lot of pressure brought to bear to find the killer, and Detective Inspector Griessel decides to put out some bait in a trap. Unfortunately, Benny’s personal life is adding to the pressure; his wife has kicked him out of the house, and told him he has six months to sort out his addiction to alcohol. He is not in what you would call a good state of mind.

Thirteen Hours

Following on from Devil’s Peak, this book sees Benny still out of the house, and still battling his alcoholism. Oh, and he is also still battling with criminals. This time around, the body of a young American girl tourist is found, with her throat slashed. It seems her female companion is on the run, in fear for her life. Benny is tasked with finding the girl before her hunters, and has to deal with the plaintive calls from her distraught parents, desperately seeking good news.

Review

Both of these books are superb. They paint a believable and intriguing picture of South Africa, complete with political and racial factors portrayed in a warts and all – but sympathetic – fashion. Meyer’s characters – not just Griessel – are realistic and interesting, and the dilemmas they face are often difficult.

Both books feature races against the clock, handled with great skill. The mystery element in both books is also high quality. There’s sex and drugs and rock and roll in the mix, with repeated volleys of violence. In one word, action aplenty. (Ok – two words.)

And finally, Benny Griessel is undoubtedly one of the greatest ever damaged detectives. Meyer does not hesitate to show you the bad things that good men are capable of doing, and – sometimes – the price they pay. But Meyer also does it in a way that makes it clear how much he loves this character; how much he sympathizes and understands his predicament, and why he is prepared to forgive his sins, at least in part.

Originally written in Afrikanas, the translation work by K L Seegers is of the highest quality. The only negative aspect is that these books reinforce the public perception of high levels of violent crime in South Africa, and I don’t know how true that is. Let’s just say, I’m in no rush to visit. (Cue tears at the Office for Tourism in South Africa…)

I enjoyed these books immensely – I have also read his Blood Safari and really enjoyed that as well – and can give the author no greater mark of approval than this: I am going to hunt down every book he has written. I have to read them.