Thirteen Hoursby Deon Meyer Translated from Afrikaans by K.L. Seegers
“Deon Meyer is one of the unsung masters. Thirteen Hours proves he should be on everyone’s reading list. This book is great!” —Michael Connelly
Internationally acclaimed, prize-winning thriller writer Deon Meyer has been heralded as the “King of South African Crime.”
In Thirteen Hours, morning dawns in Cape Town, and for homicide detective Benny Griessel it promises to be a very trying day. A teenage girl’s body has been found on the street, her throat cut. She was an American—a PR nightmare in the #1 tourist destination in South Africa. And she wasn’t alone. Somewhere in Cape Town her friend, Rachel Anderson, an innocent American, is hopefully still alive.
On the run from the first page of Thirteen Hours, Rachel is terrified, unsure where to turn in the unknown city. Detective Griessel races against the clock, trying to bring her home safe and solve the murder of her friend in a single day. Meanwhile, he gets pulled into a second case, the murder of a South African music executive. Griessel’s been sober for nearly six months—156 days. But day 157 is going to be tough. A #1 best seller in South Africa and published to rave reviews, Thirteen Hours is an atmospheric, intensely gripping novel from a master storyteller. You simply can’t put it down.
“Thirteen Hours has breathtaking suspense, psychological understanding, and one of the most inspiring detectives ever. Deon Meyer deserves his international reputation.” —Thomas Perry
“Deon Meyer is the best known contemporary South African crime writer. His six books have won a number of awards, and he was the first to honestly reflect the current realities of the new South Africa in his books.” —Michael Stanley, The Guardian
“Unputdownably brilliant.” —Craig Mackenzie, Mail & Guardian (South Africa)
“What makes Deon Meyer’s novel so outstanding is its setting—the new South Africa, where jaded white detectives are still getting used to working with black and colored (in the country’s parlance) colleagues . . . Meyer gives rare insights into the texture of everyday life in a country still troubled twenty years after the release of Nelson Mandela.” —Times (UK), on the “50 Best Thrillers of the Past 5 Years,” for Thirteen Hours
“A gem of a protagonist ” [a] wonderfully realized book . . . Deon Meyer continues to be one of the most under-appreciated writers in the genre, especially in the U.S., but if he keeps turning out books like Thirteen Hours, I can’t see that situation continuing for long. This is my favorite novel of the year so far.” —George Easter, Deadly Pleasures
“Deon Meyer is one of the unsung masters. Thirteen Hours proves he should be on everyone’s reading list. This book is great!” —Michael Connelly
“Taut, moving and deeply memorable.” —Theodore Feit, The Midwest Book Review
“The novel that entertained me the most [in 2010] was Thirteen Hours. Set in Cape Town, it is an immensely exciting story that stretches, as the title suggests, over a thirteen hour period. ” Thirteen Hours is a very powerful thriller that sweeps the reader up in its gritty portrayal of modern South Africa. Without being overly political Meyer’s novel captures the tensions of a country that is trapped in transition.” —Jeff Popple, Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine
“A smashing story. Imposing a strict time limit and a tight location on his plot, [Meyer] ramps up the suspense to an unbearable degree. Best of all, his sharply drawn characters really feel part of the new South Africa, where loyalties and beliefs must always be questioned.” —Christopher Fowler, Financial Times
“Impressive . . . further enhance[s] Meyer’s reputation as a deft storyteller.” —Publishers Weekly
“A vividly drawn locale where political considerations affect everything, cliff-hanging suspense, and shocking plot twists, Meyer again has produced a winner. Highly recommended.” —Roland Person, Library Journal (starred review)
“Try picking up Thirteen Hours and setting it down. Try. You can’t do it. I’m a pro, and I couldn’t do it.” —Don Winslow, author of The Power of the Dog and Savages
“There have been other South African crime novelists, but none are as deft at place as Deon Meyer. Thirteen Hours is Cape Town today, with all its exquisite beauty, tribal conflicts, loyalties and corruptions. . . . Meyer weaves all this into a tightly plotted story—with a twist that works beautifully—and unforgettable characters. —Margaret Cannon, Globe and Mail
“Taut, moving and deeply memorable ” highly recommended.” —Theodore Feit, Spinetingler Magazine
“A terrific read from South Africa’s best: a hard-nosed police procedural that’s also one of those race-against-time thrillers you need to read as quickly as possible. . . . Meyer is a class act, his novel edgy, subtly plotted and beautifully balanced between fast-paced action, believable characterization, the tense process of investigation and penetrating social comment.” —Graeme Blundell, The Australian
“Through well-written and nuanced protagonists, Meyer deals with South Africa’s challenges from a variety of perspectives . . . and shed[s] welcome light on this fascinating and turbulent tip of the Dark Continent.” —Verna Suit, Mystery Readers International
“If you haven’t read Deon Meyer yet, you’re missing out.” —Yvonne Walus, Mystery Fanfare
“Thirteen hours in the life of South African police Detective Inspector Benny Griessel make Jack Bauer’s exploits look like child’s play. [Thirteen Hours] progresses at breakneck speed.” —Maxine Clark, Euro Crime
“Terrific.” —Hubert O’Hearn,
“South Africa‘s Deon Meyer has a glowing international reputation, based on a series of crime novels that convey the extremes of his country in the post-apartheid era. Meyer is a journalist, writes in Afrikaans and has a brilliant translator in K. L. Seegers, who seamlessly reproduces South African slang . . . Meyer’s latest novel Thirteen Hours, has an American tourist running for her life after her friend is murdered in Cape Town. It’s a gripping plot that might have worked in almost any big city, but Meyer’s detective Benny Griessel, has to deal with tensions in a police force that still seems to struggle with black and coloured police officers.” —Joan Smith, The Times (UK), “Best in the World of New Crime Fiction”
“Twenty years after the release of Nelson Mandela, South Africa remains a troubled place, and Meyer’s novels give rare insights into the texture of everyday life. Above all, though, [Thirteen Hours] is a vigorous, exciting novel that combines memorable characters and plot with edge-of-the-seat suspense.” —Joan Smith, The Sunday Times (UK)
“The staccato story slips back and forth between the various strands at a breathless clip, doling out nuggets of plot in just the right amounts to have us salivating to know more.” —Ben Felsenburg, Metro (UK)
“[Thirteen Hours] is gripping, tense, cleverly plotted and beautifully balanced between action, investigation and social comment. And all of it rises towards a crescendo that is pitched to perfection.” —Material Witness (UK)
“Witty, fast, and with great characterization, he more than deserves his title ‘king’ of South African crime thrillers. I can’t wait for the next one.” —Debbie Reynolds, The Mercury (South Africa)
“In Meyer we have more than a writer who entertains, and also more than a novelist who educates us about ‘little cultural differences’: his greatest attribute is that he sets us thinking about ourselves and our country and our future. Painlessly.” —James Mitchell, The South African Star
“Meyer, who has won praise for his previous novels, is very good at delineating some of the tensions and conflicts that underlie our new democracy, as well as evoking the atmosphere of a more menacing Cape Town that exists beyond the tourist brochures. His is a tough, unglamorous depiction of a city still scarred by its recent history while in Griessel he has created a sympathetic and likable character—an essentially good man struggling with his own private demons.” —Anthony Stidolph, The Witness (South Africa)
“[Meyer’s] novels are so engaging that you can easily get paper cuts from turning pages too fast. . . . Thirteen Hours is a ripping good read guaranteed to keep you up until the last word.” —Yolandi Groenewald, Mail & Guardian (South Africa)
“Thirteen Hours once again proves that Meyer is in a class of his own.” —Suzaan Hauman, LitNet (South Africa)
“The message is simple: Thirteen Hours is available, it does not matter how much it costs, just go buy it. . . . You can’t read his books fast enough.” —Gert van der Westhuizen, Beeld (South Africa)
“Blistering . . . the fugitive girl’s desperate flight, and Benny’s equally frantic efforts to save her, deliver a heart-pumping yarn in an exotic locale.” —John Sullivan, Winnipeg Free Press
“Meyer brilliantly juggles all of the thematic balls, while maintaining an unrelenting sense of suspense. We do not know till the end who is after Rachel and why they want to kill her. We do not even know if she is implicated in some crime or wholly innocent. What we do know is that we want her to get away.” —Yvonne Klein, Reviewing the Evidence
“The narrative is bracing and the characters resonant and ripe. Meyer’s pitch-perfect pace purrs and thrums. The reader feels like a detective as fragments eventually pull together from the grime of corruption. You suspect, you speculate and you quiver.” —Betsey Van Horn, Austin American-Statesman
“Meyer is brilliant at suspense, a skill that is coupled with beguilingly unabashed social commentary.” —William Saunderson, Times Live (South Africa)
“Deon Meyer’s books just keep getting better and better. Thirteen Hours had me on the edge of my seat from the first chapter. . . . This is a remarkable novel in so many ways. It is literary fiction at the same time that it is a thriller. It deals with deep issues without sermonizing. Most importantly, as a reader, it is hard to put down. It keeps up the interest from the very first to the very last page with no rabbit trails or deus ex machina. The plot is complicated but very easily followed because of the quality of Meyer’s writing. It is a novel for just about anyone who wants a wild ride through a fantastic book.” —Bonnie Brodie, Mostly Fiction
“Engrossing.” —Cindy Anderson,
“Meyer keeps the reader guessing and flipping the pages right to the bang-up ending, but it’s the human element that makes Meyer’s novels a standout. . . . [A] pitch perfect story.” —Lynn Harnett, Seacoast on Sunday
Winner of the 2011 Boeke Prize Fanatics Choice Award
Shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger Award
Finalist for the 2011 Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine’s Barry Award for Best Thriller
Finalist for the Sunday Times (South Africa) Fiction Prize
One of Deadly Pleasures Best Books of the Year
One of the “Deathly Dozen” best books of the year by Margaret Cannon, Globe & Mail
One of January Magazine‘s best crime novels of 2010
Named the “Most Thrilling Unputdownable Read of 2010” by ReactionsToReading.com
One of The Independent‘s “50 Best Summer Reads”
Winner of the 2011 Barry Award for Best Thriller
05:36: A girl runs up the steep slope of Lion’s Head. The sound of her running shoes urgent on the broad footpath’s gravel.
At this moment, as the sun’s rays pick her out like a searchlight against the mountain, she is the image of carefree grace. Seen from behind, her dark plait bounces against the little rucksack. Her neck is deeply tanned against the powder blue of her T-shirt. There is energy in the rhythmic stride of her long legs in denim shorts. She personifies athletic youth—vigorous, healthy, focused.
Until she stops and looks back over her left shoulder. Then the illusion disintegrates. There is anxiety in her face. And utter exhaustion.
She does not see the impressive beauty of the city in the rising sun’s soft light. Her frightened eyes search wildly for movement in the tall fynbos shrubbery behind her. She knows they are there, but not how near. Her breath races—from exertion, shock and fear.
It is adrenaline, the fearsome urge to live, that drives her to run again, to keep going, despite her aching legs, the burning in her chest, the fatigue of a night without sleep and the disorientation of a strange city, a foreign country and an impenetrable continent.
Ahead of her the path forks. Instinct spurs her to the right, higher, closer to the Lion’s rocky dome. She doesn’t think, there is no plan. She runs blindly, her arms the pistons of a machine, driving her on.
Detective Inspector Benny Griessel was asleep.
He dreamed he was driving a huge tanker on a downhill stretch of the N1 between Parow and Plattekloof. Too fast and not quite in control. When his cell phone rang, the first shrill note was enough to draw him back to reality with a fleeting feeling of relief. He opened his eyes and checked the radio clock. It was 05:37.
He swung his feet off the single bed, dream forgotten. For an instant he perched motionless on the edge, like a man hovering on a cliff. Then he stood up and stumbled to the door, down the wooden stairs to the living room below, to where he had left his phone last night. His hair was unkempt, too long between trims. He wore only a pair of faded rugby shorts. His single thought was that a call at this time of the morning could only be bad news.
He didn’t recognise the number on the phone’s small screen.
“Griessel,” his voice betrayed him, hoarse with the first word of the day.
“Hey, Benny, it’s Vusi. Sorry to wake you.”
He struggled to focus, his mind fuzzy. “That’s OK.”
“We’ve got a . . . body.”
“St Martini, the Lutheran church up in Long Street.”
“In the church?”
“No, she’s lying outside.”
“I’ll be there now.”
He ended the call and ran a hand through his hair.
She, Inspector Vusumuzi Ndabeni had said.
Probably just a bergie. Another tramp who had drunk too much of something or other. He put the phone down beside his brand new second-hand laptop.
He turned, still half asleep, and bashed his shin against the front wheel of the bicycle leaning against his pawnshop sofa. He grabbed it before it toppled. Then he went back upstairs. The bicycle was a vague reminder of his financial difficulties, but he didn’t want to dwell on that now.
In the bedroom he took off his shorts and the musky scent of sex drifted up from his midriff.
The knowledge of good and evil suddenly weighed heavily on him. Along with the events of the previous night, it squeezed the last remaining drowsiness from his brain. Whatever had possessed him?
He tossed the shorts in an accusatory arc onto the bed and walked through to the bathroom.
Griessel lifted the toilet lid angrily, aimed and peed.
Suddenly she was on the tar of Signal Hill Road and spotted the woman and dog a hundred meters to the left. Her mouth shaped a cry, two words, but her voice was lost in the rasping of her breath.
She ran towards the woman and her dog. It was big, a Ridgeback. The woman looked about sixty, white, with a large pink sun hat, a walking stick and a small bag on her back.
The dog was unsettled now. Maybe it smelled her fear, sensed the panic inside her. Her soles slapped on the tar as she slowed. She stopped three meters from them.
“Help me,” said the girl. Her accent was strong.
“What’s wrong?” There was concern in the woman’s eyes. She stepped back. The dog growled and strained on the lead, to get closer to the girl.
“They’re going to kill me.”
The woman looked around in fear. “But there’s nobody.”
The girl looked over her shoulder. “They’re coming.”
Then she took the measure of the woman and dog and knew they wouldn’t make any difference. Not here on the open slope of the mountain. Not against them. She would put them all in danger.
“Call the police. Please. Just call the police,” she said and ran again, slowly at first, her body reluctant. The dog lunged forward and barked once. The woman pulled back on the lead.
“Please,” she said and jogged, feet dragging, down the tar road towards Table Mountain. “Just call the police.”
She looked back once, about seventy paces on. The woman was still standing there bewildered, frozen to the spot.
Benny Griessel flushed the toilet and wondered why he hadn’t seen last night coming. He hadn’t gone looking for it, it had just happened. Jissis, he shouldn’t feel so guilty, he was only human after all.
But he was married.
If you could call it a marriage. Separate beds, separate tables and separate homes. Damn it all, Anna couldn’t have everything. She couldn’t throw him out of his own house and expect him to support two households, expect him to be sober for six fucking months, and celibate on top of that.
At least he was sober. One hundred and fifty-six days now. More than five months of struggling against the bottle, day after day, hour after hour, till now.
God, Anna must never hear about last night. Not now. Less than a month before his term of exile was served, the punishment for his drinking. If Anna found out, he was fucked, all the struggle and suffering for nothing.
He sighed and stood in front of the mirrored cabinet to brush his teeth. Had a good look at himself. Greying at the temples, wrinkles at the corner of his eyes, the Slavic features. He had never been much of an oil painting.
He opened the cabinet and took out toothbrush and toothpaste.
Whatever had she seen in him, that Bella? There had been a moment last night when he wondered if she was sleeping with him because she felt sorry for him, but he had been too aroused, too bloody grateful for her soft voice and big breasts and her mouth, jissis, that mouth, he had a thing about mouths, that’s where the trouble had started. No. It had begun with Lize Beekman, but like Anna would believe that?
Benny Griessel brushed his teeth hurriedly and urgently. Then he jumped under the shower and opened the taps on full, so he could wash all the accusing scents from his body.
It wasn’t a bergie. Griessel’s heart skipped a beat as he climbed over the spiked railings of the church wall and saw the girl lying there. The running shoes, khaki shorts, orange camisole and the shape of her arms and legs told him she was young. She reminded him of his daughter.
He walked down the narrow tarmac path, past tall palms and pine trees and a yellow notice board: STRICTLY AUTHORIZED. CARS ONLY. AT OWNER’s OWN RISK, to the spot just left of the pretty grey church where, on the same tar, she lay stretched out.
He looked up at the perfect morning. Bright, with hardly any wind, just a faint breeze bearing fresh sea scents up the mountain. It was not a time to die.
Vusi stood beside her with Thick and Thin from Forensics, a police photographer and three men in SAPS uniform. Behind Griessel’s back on the Long Street pavement there were more uniforms, at least four in the white shirts and black epaulettes of the Metro Police, all very self-important. Together with a group of bystanders they leaned their arms on the railings and stared at the motionless figure.
“Morning, Benny,” said Vusi Ndabeni in his quiet manner. He was of the same average height as Griessel, but seemed smaller. Lean and neat, the seams of his trousers sharply pressed, snow-white shirt with tie, shoes shined. His peppercorn hair was cut short and shaved in sharp angles, goatee impeccably clipped. He wore surgical rubber gloves. Griessel had been introduced to him for the first time last Thursday, along with the other five detectives he had been asked to ‘mentor” throughout the coming year. That was the word that John Africa, Regional Commissioner: Detective Services and Criminal Intelligence, had used. But when Griessel was alone in Africa’s office it was “We’re in the shit, Benny. We fucked up the Van der Vyver case, and now the brass say it’s because we’ve just been having too much of a good time in the Cape and it’s time to pull finger, but what can I do? I’m losing my best people and the new ones are clueless, totally green. Benny, can I count on you?
An hour later he was in the Commissioner’s large conference room, along with six of the best “new” people looking singularly unimpressed, all seated in a row on grey government-issue chairs. This time John Africa toned down his message: “Benny will be your mentor. He’s been on the Force for twenty-five years; he was part of the old Murder and Robbery when most of you were still in primary school. What he’s forgotten, you still have to learn. But understand this: he’s not here to do your work for you. He’s your advisor, your sounding board. And your mentor. According to the dictionary that is,” the Commissioner glanced at his notes, “a wise and trusted counsellor or teacher. That’s why I transferred him to the Provincial Task Force. Because Benny is wise and you can trust him, because I trust him. Too much knowledge is being lost, there are too many new people and we don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time. Learn from him. You have been hand picked—not many will get this opportunity.” Griessel watched their faces. Four lean black men, one fat black woman, and one broad-shouldered colored detective, all in their early thirties. There was not much ungrudging gratitude, with the exception of Vusumuzi (“but everyone calls me Vusi”) Ndabeni. The colored detective, Fransman Dekker, was openly antagonistic. But Griessel was already accustomed to the undercurrents in the new SAPS. He stood beside John Africa and told himself he ought to be grateful he still had a job after the dissolution of the Serious and Violent Crimes Unit. Grateful that he and his former commanding officer, Mat Joubert, hadn’t been posted to a station like most of their colleagues. The new structures that were not new, it was like it was thirty years back, detectives at stations, because that was the way it was now done overseas, and the SAPS must copy them. At least he still had work and Joubert had put him up for promotion. If his luck held, if they could look past his history of drinking, and affirmative action and all the politics and shit, he would hear today whether he had made Captain.
Captain Benny Griessel. It sounded right to him. He needed the raise too.
“Morning, Vusi,” he said.
“Hey, Benny,” Jimmy, the tall, skinny white coat from Forensics, greeted him. “I hear they call you “The Oracle” now.”
“Like that aunty in Lord of the Rings,” said Arnold, the short, fat one. Collectively they were known in Cape police circles as Thick and Thin, usually in the tired crack “Forensics will stand by you through Thick and Thin.”
“The Matrix, you ape,” said Jimmy.
“Whatever,” said Arnold.
“Morning,” said Griessel. He turned to the uniforms under the tree and took a deep breath, ready to tell them, “This is a crime scene, get your butts to the other side of the wall,” and then he remembered that this was Vusi’s case, he should shut up and mentor. He gave the uniforms a dirty look, with zero effect, and hunkered down to look at the body.
The girl lay on her belly with her head turned away from the street. Her blonde hair was very short. Across her back were two short horizontal cuts, matching left and right on her shoulder blades. But these were not the cause of death. That was the huge gash across her throat, deep enough to expose the oesophagus. Her face, chest and shoulders lay in the wide pool of blood. The smell of death was already there, as bitter as copper.
“Jissis,” said Griessel, all his fear and revulsion welling up in him and he had to breathe, slow and easy, as Doc Barkhuizen had taught him. He had to distance himself, he must not internalize this.
He shut his eyes for a second. Then he looked up at the trees. He was searching for objectivity, but this was a dreadful way to die. And his mind wanted to spool through the event as it had happened, the knife flashing and slicing, sliding deep through her tissues.
He got up quickly, pretending to look around. Thick and Thin were bickering over something, as usual. He tried to listen.
Lord, she looked so young. Eighteen, nineteen?
What kind of madness did it take to cut the throat of a child like this? What kind of perversion?
He forced the images out of his mind, thought of the facts, the implications. She was white. That spelled trouble. That meant media attention and the whole cycle of crime-getting-out-of-control criticism starting all over again. It meant huge pressure and long hours, too many people with a finger in the pie and everyone trying to cover their ass and he didn’t have the heart for all that any more.
“Trouble,” he said quietly to Vusi.
“It would be better if the uniforms stayed behind the wall.”
Ndabeni nodded and went over to the uniformed policemen. He asked them to go out another way, around the back of the church. They were reluctant, wanting to be part of the action. But they went.
Vusi came to stand beside him, notebook and pen in hand. “All the gates are locked. There’s a gate for cars over there near the church office, and the main gate in front of the building here. She must have jumped over the railings—it’s the only way in here.” Vusi spoke too fast. He pointed at a colored man standing on the pavement on the other side of the wall. “That ou there . . . James Dylan Fredericks, he found her. He’s the day manager of Kauai Health Foods in Kloof Street. He says he comes in on the Golden Arrow bus from Mitchell’s Plain and then he walks from the terminal. He went past here and something caught his eye. So he climbed over the wall, but when he saw the blood he went back and phoned the Caledon Square station because that’s the number he has on speed dial for the shop.”
Griessel nodded. He suspected Ndabeni was nervous about his presence, as though he were here to evaluate the black man. He would have to put that right.
“I’m going to tell Fredericks he can go, we know where to find him.”
“That’s fine, Vusi. You don’t have to . . . I appreciate you giving me the details, but I don’t want you to . . . you know . . .”
Ndabeni touched Griessel’s arm as though to reassure him. “It’s OK, Benny. I want to learn . . .”
Vusi was silent for a while. Then he added: “I don’t want to blow this, Benny. I was in Khayelitsha for four years and I don’t want to go back. But this is my first ” white,” he said that carefully as if it might be a racist statement. “This is another world . . .”
“It is.” Griessel was no good at this sort of thing, never knowing what the proper, politically correct words were.
Vusi came to his rescue. “I tried to check if there was anything in her shorts pockets. For ID. There isn’t anything. We’re just waiting for the pathologist now.”
A bird twittered shrilly in the trees. Two pigeons landed near them and began peck-pecking. Griessel looked around him. There was one vehicle in the church grounds, a white Toyota Microbus standing on the south side against a two-meter brick wall. “Adventure” was spelled in big red letters along the side of the vehicle.
Ndabeni followed his gaze. “They probably park here for security,” and he indicated the high wall and locked gates. “I think they have an office down in Long Street.”
“Could be.” Long Street was the hub of backpacker tourism in the Cape – young people, students from Europe, Australia and America looking for cheap lodgings and adventure.
Griessel squatted down beside the body again, but this time so that her face was turned away from him. He did not want to look at the dreadful wound, or her delicate features.
Please, don’t let her be a foreign kid, he thought.
Things would really get out of hand then.