In the Crosshairs: DEON MEYER
Deon Meyer Blood Safari by Deon Meyer


Deon Meyer was born in the South African town of Paarl in the winelands of the Western Cape in 1958, and grew up in Klerksdorp, in the gold mining region of Northwest Province. Deon wrote his first book when he was 14 years old, and bribed and blackmailed his two brothers into reading it. They were not impressed (hey, everybody is a critic ...) In 1994 he published his first Afrikaans novel, which has not been translated, "simply because it was not good enough to compete on the international market. However, it was a wonderful learning experience". All later novels have been translated into several languages, including English, French, German, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Russian, Finnish, Czech, Romanian, Slovakian and Bulgarian. SHOTS’ Les Hurst gets to shoot the breeze with Deon.





LJH: What was the supply of crime fiction like, say, twenty years ago for Afrikaans readers? Was Dutch crime fiction popular – with authors such as Baantjer and Jan Willem van der Wettering? Was there a good supply of crime fiction written in Afrikaans then that we don’t know about in Britain?


DM: Alas, we had no access to Dutch authors back then, but British and especially American crime fiction was freely available. As for the Afrikaans version, there was nobody working in the genre for almost twenty years. I was the first to publish, back in 1994.


LJH: You list a lot of modern thriller writers as your influences.  Were you aware of the older writers such as Tom Sharpe and James McClure who were expelled from the RSA in the 1960s? McClure wrote the Kramer and Zondi novels, a series of eight police procedurals set in a fictional Trekkersberg, and Tom Sharpe wrote a couple of stand-alones set in the Republic too.


DM: I read – and loved – Tom Sharpe, as his work was very much available. McClure’s work was harder to find, but he is still revered in South Africa as one of our pioneers.


LJH: Were you reading John D. MacDonald, Ed McBain, John le Carré, etc, whom you name on your website, in English or Afrikaans? Do you think it makes a difference?


DM: I read them all in English, as they were never translated into Afrikaans. And even if they were, I would probably have stuck to the original, as nuance does get lost in translation, although I believe story is an international language. Thus, if the story works, the translation will also work.


LJH: The different protagonists of your books, Lemmer, Mat Joubert, Zet van Heerden, all know they are only one step above the bottom. Tiny Mpayipheli in Heart of the Hunter seems rather better, but then he is a psychopath. What is it that attracts you to men struggling with failure? Or do they just seem more typical of modern heroes?


DM: Most protagonists in crime and thriller fiction seem to be wrestling with inner demons. I just find writing (and reading) about such characters is much more interesting than would be the case with well-balanced individuals.


LJH: On your website you talk about writing ‘stories’, but your work is also heavily plotted. Do you make any distinction between inventing a story and plotting the events, the mysteries, and the unravelling?


DM: Not really. I do very little ‘plotting’ before I start on a novel, but I do have the basics of the story in my head. Story structure is the big issue for me, and I try to assess structure as I go along.


LJH: There is a Deon Meyer style becoming apparent: those struggling protagonists are one example, while in Blood Safari Lemmer knows that Emma Le Roux has enemies, but he finds the police against him, too, which also displays something you’ve done a number of times with your use of triangular relationships – not just goodies against baddies, but one set pretty certain that there are at least two other groups out there who are out to get the first. Do these triangular plots help to maintain conflict in your story, or is it an accurate depiction of the confusions in post-Apartheid South Africa?


DM: I’m always at pains to explain that my books dramatise the South African situation. There are very few ‘confusions’ in my country today. It is a dynamic, stable and wonderful country, and although we have problems, we are working very hard to solve them. Those triangular relationships are all about conflict, as conflict is the mother of suspense.


LJH: How do your local readers feel about the way you use real events? In Blood Safari, for instance, you fictionalise the wildlife reserves, but you include the death of Samora Machel pretty much straight. Has that ever provoked any comment?


DM: Readers over here seem to like it very much.


LJH: Readers can go to your website and see photographs of the places featured. You’ve made some of the journeys featured, and you’ve held many of the jobs featured, too. Does that make you a hyper-realist writer? It certainly makes you exceptional.


DM: I’m not sure that I’m hyper-realist. My philosophy is that, if I am going to write about a place or a job, for instance, I owe it to the reader to do my homework thoroughly. Lazy research mistakes usually means a loss of credibility.


LJH: So far you’ve written about the new South Africa, and the international connections (mostly criminal, many political) left by the old RSA. Do you think that your characters – as you have done – will be travelling internationally soon?


DM: Every time I visit wonderful cities elsewhere in the world, I seriously consider the possibilities. Perhaps ...


LJH: Or do you think there is still a lot of crime to come home?


DM: I never use true crime. It takes out all the fun of inventing my own. And if crime at home was a necessity for crime authors, the many excellent Swedish writers would have been in real trouble.


LJH: In an incredible coincidence Frederick Forsyth, long term reporter on Africa, was in Guinea-Bissau during the recent assassinations. Then, more extraordinarily, the method used (a trip-wired bomb under the stairs, rather than a rocket-propelled grenade through the window) has suggested, by its complexity, that South American drugs gangs are now taking control of equatorial states through murder. John Le Carré has been writing about Africa recently, too. So, finally, do you think that Azania will be able to keep out those other threats? Do you think that you’ll be able to keep them out of your books?


DM: I don’t know about Azania, but I can tell you that organised crime has made inroads in South Africa, as it has in most European countries. It has become an international problem. And I probably won’t be able to keep them out of my books.


Thank you for giving Shots your time.


Thanks for the opportunity.



BLOOD SAFARI - The story:


When the rich and famous visit South Africa their first port of call is often Body Armor, the personal security company offering two types of protection: the big and intimidating muscle men called Gorillas, or the lean and hungry former government body guards, referred to as Invisibles.


Lemmer is a free-lance Invisible, way down on the price list where the bargains are to be found, because he is white trash, a violent man with a criminal record who spent four years in jail after killing a guy in a road rage incident. He lives in the remote village of Loxton in the Upper Karoo, trying to rebuild his life, when the call from Body Armor comes on Christmas morning: The tiny and beautiful Emma le Roux, a brand consultant from Cape Town, wants to hire him.


He needs the money. So he drives down, meets her, and listens to her story.


She says she saw her brother on the television news a few days ago. He seems to be the suspect in the killing of a witch doctor and four vulture poachers up in the Lowveld of Mpumalanga Province, now apparently on the run. The only problem is, her brother is supposed to be dead. He disappeared twenty years ago in the Kruger National Park.


After calling the investigating officer, she accepted that it must be a case of mistaken identity. But two days later, she received a mysterious phone call. And then three men in balaclavas broke down her front door and tried to kill her. She escaped, but now, she wants answers. She's going to the Lowveld herself, and Lemmer must watch her back.


Lemmer's First Law of Small Women is: Don't trust them.


Lemmer was a ministerial body guard for twenty years before affirmative action claimed his job. He knows people. He can read them like paperback novels - all the little signs and signals. And he knows Emma le Roux is lying. Probably about everything. But hey, that's what rich people do. If she wants to indulge in fantasy, he'll take the money and go along for the ride, thank you very much.


Emma's investigation goes nowhere quickly. And then she is seriously injured.


Lemmer's First General Law is: Don't get involved. But he has never failed as a body guard before. And despite her storming of windmills, he's grown a little too fond of Emma. So he starts digging, uncovering simmering racial and political tensions, greed, corruption, and a network of eco-terrorists. He bangs heads, has an encounter with a black mamba (see photo), and follows the leads until he finds what he's after: The people who attacked and almost killed Emma.


Getting to them will be extremely dangerous, and exposing them could have international political implications. If he fails, both he and Emma will end up dead.


But Lemmer is sick and tired of being invisible.


He goes after them, against all odds.


Read SHOT’s review









Blood Safari by Deon Meyer



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