Heart of the Hunter – Deon Meyer

Deon Meyer writes great character-driven fiction, and this is as good an example as you could hope for. It’s a thriller that starts slowly, and quickly heats up.

In the beginning, Thobela Mpayipheli (Tiny to his friends) is approached by the daughter of an old friend. Somebody has kidnapped her father, and demanded she deliver something from his safe in exchange for his release. She is scared and disabled. Will Tiny do the delivery?

In a sense, Tiny is also a play on the role of the man, because he is a tiny cog in a much bigger situation than he can possibly realize. (Not that such a realization would have affected his decision to help.) Spooks are involved. Special Forces are involved. There may be a high level mole in the South African Intelligence Community, who may also be involved. And the kidnappers are not to be toyed with.

That’s the dangerous mix that Tiny faces. In fairness, Tiny is better equipped to face the challenges than 99% of the population. His former life as a skilled assassin is revealed in little snippets, and you wonder at the character of the man who gave up a world of violence to set up home with his girlfriend and her son, and work as a gopher in a motor cycle dealership. He promised not to go back to his old life, but he feels a greater duty to his friend.

Another part of the mix is the Cape Times reporter, Ms Healy, thriving on police tip-offs, and constantly trying to stay ahead of the machinations of the State as they seek to hunt down Tiny before he can complete his mission. Does she see Tiny as a thug, or something more complex? Can she understand and appreciate the forces involved in the story?

And then there’s the motor cycling. I knew that the author was a keen biker, and his love of that pursuit comes across so strongly in the passages in the book telling of Tiny’s motor bike journey as he tries to evade the authorities. Although they are probably a touch indulgent, you get the sense of the author writing from his own experience, drawing deeply on his inner feelings and trying to breathe yet another layer of humanity into the character of Tiny. After all, Tiny is no one dimensional construct. In that respect, he is like the modern South Africa that Meyer does such a good job of portraying. The backdrop of the country is deftly delivered.

There is, indeed, the heart of the hunter beating at the center of this novel. And it will keep you company as you are drawn, inevitably, into the maelstrom.

This is a terrific adventure that, in the classic tell-tale fashion, leaves you distraught on discovering you have read the last page.