A real palm-sweating thriller

Review: Vivien Horler

Dark Flood, by Deon Meyer ( Hodder & Stoughton)

If I describe this detective thriller as something like Enid Blyton for grownups, I mean no disrespect towards Deon Meyer, one of South Africa’s best-selling authors.

I remember as an eight-year-old reading an adventure book by the British children’s author and my palms beginning to sweat as danger surrounded the hero.

This thriller is exciting, engaging, a good puzzle, and beautifully evokes the wonders of Stellenbosch, with its vineyards, white-gabled houses, and oak-lined streets.

And we’re back with old friends Hawks Captains Benny and Vaughn Cupido trying to do their best in a country drowning in crime and corruption.

It opens with Griessel and Cupido rushing out to a cash-in-transit heist, which ends in Cupido having to neutralise one of the robbers who has taken a baby hostage. So just 16 pages in your palms are sweating.

Apart from physical danger, Griessel and Cupido are in trouble with their bosses. They continued investigating a case, against orders, and have to appear at a disciplinary hearing. They’re found guilty, suspended without pay, kicked out of the Hawks, told they’ll be demoted to the rank of warrant officer – and transferred to Laingsburg.

Both are distraught. Griessel fears he’ll never manage to stay off the wagon so far from home and his fiancée, while Cupido believes the woman to whom he’s about to pop the question won’t wait for him. Plus the kind of crimes they’ll be expected to deal with in Laingsburg are way below their skills.

And then, mysteriously, the orders change. They’re sent to Stellenbosch instead where their first case is to investigate the disappearance of a university student. He’s a loner, brilliant with computers, and a dutiful son who  always keeps his mother in touch with his movements.

But now he’s been missing for a weekend, his phone goes to voice mail, and his mother – as well as the detectives – fears the worst.

Meanwhile a beautiful young estate agent, Sandra Steenberg, seems to have everything going for her. Except that since the crash of the crook Jasper Boostra’s business empire, the bottom has fallen out of Stellenbosch’s high-value housing market. Steenberg, who looks after her family’s finances, has fallen behind in her bond repayments, her car payments, and her children’s school fees. And she hasn’t dared to tell her husband.

Then she gets a call from Jasper Boonstra himself. He wants her to come to his hugely valuable wine estate to discuss a property sale. Steenberg is thrilled. The estate is worth millions, and if she is able to sell, her commission will put all her problems behind her.

The trouble is, not only is Boonstra a crook, he’s also manipulative and a letch. When she goes to see him he makes a pass at her, and also reveals he has researched her, knows about her financial problems and might have to tell her husband if she doesn’t cooperate.

This novel is about greed and human frailty and is a cracking good story. Eat your heart out, Enid Blyton.

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