THE LAST HUNT by Deon Meyer (Hodder & Stoughton, $A32.99)
There have been some very good thrillers released in 2019, but with only six weeks to go in the year Deon Meyer makes a strong claim for the best thriller of the year with The Last Hunt!
Deon Meyer is South Africa’s leading crime and thriller writer and one of the best in the world.
His books, especially those featuring Benny Griessel of the Hawks elite police unit in Cape Town, are superb examples of high-quality crime fiction with great characters and well worked out plots. Benny is the usual hard-worn detective trying to overcome a drinking problem and get his life back into order, but the depth of Meyer’s characterisation lifts him above the rest of the pack. Benny is no super detective, but a hard-working, experienced cop who can make connections and is always determined to see a case through to the end.
In The Last Hunt, Benny and his partner Vaughn Cupido are given a difficult cold case to solve. The body of Johnson Johnson, an ex-cop now doing private security, has been found beside a railway line. He appears to have jumped from South Africa’s, and perhaps the world’s, most luxurious train. The local police have already failed to make progress and seem intent on writing it off as suicide, but Benny and Cupido quickly find evidence that suggests it was murder. As they try to work out what happened on the train, and the real identities of two passengers with fake IDs, their investigation becomes sabotaged by powerful figures in the Government and the South African secret services.
Meanwhile in Bordeaux Daniel Darret has settled into a new life in a city far away from his troubled homeland in Africa. He is intent on living a quiet life, until an old friend turns up and asks him to again take up his guns and do one more killing job.
The dual storyline works well, with Griessel and Cupido methodically accumulating and examining the evidence and exposing the reader to the depth of corruption in South Africa, while the second storyline in Bordeaux adds some action and suspense, as Darret, also known as Thobela Mpayipheli, goes on the run. It is this second storyline line that drives the momentum of The Last Hunt and gives it a thriller feel.
The book proceeds at a good pace and is always interesting. As usual the characterisations are rich and convincing and the interactions between Benny and the other members of the team ring true. Meyer has a good ear for dialogue, and he seems to accurately capture the tone and rhythm of the conversations between the various characters. The descriptions are vivid, but do not overwhelm the book, and the plot is well constructed and surprising. Meyer draws heavily on recent high-level corruption cases in South Africa and the ‘state capture’ of institutions for the background to his story, and gives a good sense of the impact of these events on the people living in the country, but without swamping us in detail.
It is a reviewer cliché to say that a thriller is ‘unputdownable’, but in the case of the closing chapters of The Last Hunt it is true. The book builds to a terrific and incredibly tense climax as Meyer skillfully brings the two strands of the story together in an unexpected way. I had no idea how it was going to end, and I read the last twenty pages in a rush to find out who survives.
Much of the suspense is generated by Meyer’s ability to create interesting, flawed characters about whom we are interested in and care about. Regular readers of Meyer’s books will particularly enjoy seeing the return of Thobela Mpayipheli, who we last encountered in the equally suspenseful Devil’s Peak. While Australian readers will appreciate Meyer’s nice salute to the late Peter Temple, who lived in South Africa before gaining fame in Australia as one of our best crime writers.
When Benny and Cupido interview an Australian University Professor, he asks:
“‘but if you’ll allow me a Jack Irish moment..’
‘Jack who, Prof?’ Cupido asked
‘Jack Irish? The character from the late great Aussie crime-fiction author Peter Temple’s books?'”
It is hard to find complaint with this accomplished thriller. There are perhaps too many coincidences towards the end and on occasion the translation falters, but these are very minor quibbles and do not detract from what is a great novel.
Four and a half stars out of five.
The Last Hunt was released in Australia and the United Kingdom on 14 November 2020
Thanks to Hachette Australia and the Canberra Weekly for a copy of the book.