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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Thirteen Hours

by
Deon Meyer


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Thirteen Hours



Title: Thirteen Hours
Author: Deon Meyer
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2009)
Length: 408 pages
Original in: Afrikaans
Availability: Thirteen Hours - US
Thirteen Hours - UK
Thirteen Hours - Canada
Thirteen Hours - India
13 heures - France
Dreizehn Stunden - Deutschland
Tredici ore - Italia
  • Afrikaanstitle: 13 Uur
  • Translated by K.L.Seegers

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Our Assessment:

B : fairly effective suspense, but the juggling-act gets a bit tiresome, and Meyer falls back on too many things he's done before

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times A 24/5/2010 Christopher Fowler
FAZ . 5/3/2010 Hannes Hintermeier
Sunday Times A 25/4/2010 Joan Smith


  From the Reviews:
  • "South African thrillers arrive with racial baggage, and it’s a mark of Meyer’s talent to see just how well the issues are balanced with a smashing story. Imposing a strict time limit and a tight location on his plot, he ramps up the suspense to an unbearable degree." - Christopher Fowler, Financial Times

  • "Es ist nicht sein bestes Buch, die Subtilität des Vorgängers Weißer Schatten erreicht es nicht. Sein Gespür für die Balance von Dialog, Atmosphäre und Landschaft wird hier dem Powerplay der Handlung geopfert." - Hannes Hintermeier, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "What makes this novel so outstanding is its setting -- the new South Africa, where jaded white detectives are still getting used to working with black and "coloured" (in the country’s curious parlance) colleagues -- and Meyer’s superlative talent for suspense. (...) Meyer’s novels give rare insights into the texture of everyday life. Above all, though, this is a vigorous, exciting novel that combines memorable characters and plot with edge-of-the-seat suspense." - Joan Smith, Sunday Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Thirteen Hours is a real-time novel, describing the events of one day, from 5:36 AM to 7:51 PM (which, yes, doesn't quite add up to thirteen hours -- in fact, there's also a brief sort of postscript date-stamped 22:01 (i.e. 10:01 PM) -- but most of the significant action is, indeed, squeezed into the first thirteen hours). The narrative jumps back and forth -- relatively quickly -- between what the different actors are up to; there is some overlap, but it's an awful lot of juggling that Meyer does here over four hundred pages .....
       The story revolves around two murders: a young woman, an American tourist, is found brutally killed in the street, and then a music executive is found shot in his home. There's a lot more urgency to the case involving the girl, not only because of all the media attention and pressure that arises out of the fact that she's an American but also because there was another girl with her who, it soon becomes clear, is on the run from the murderers, who are trying to chase her down. The case of the music executive seems a bit more straightforward -- at first it seems obvious that his wife, found beside the body, dead drunk, with the gun at hand, killed him -- but keeps getting more and more complicated (beginning with the fact that he clearly wasn't killed where he was found).
       The man on the case(s) is Detective Inspector Bennie Griessel, sober half a year now but living apart from his wife (and one of the things the thirteen hours builds to is a meeting his wife has arranged -- and the question: will she take him back ?). Griessel isn't quite in charge; rather, he's supposed to mentor the young up-and-comers in the new South African police. His charges are Vusumuzi 'Vusi' Ndabemi, who is supposed to handle the case of the murdered girl, and Fransman Dekker, handling the music executive case; naturally, Griessel has to lend a very strong helping hand to see both cases through.
       A manpower shortage doesn't help matters, but these are high priority cases; still, there are all sorts of bureaucratic and other hurdles (a blackout, at one point, too). One of the things Meyer does fairly well is show how relevant information works its way through official channels until it makes it to those who could really use the information. One of the frustrations in the case of the girl who is being hunted down, Rachel Anderson, is that the bad guys always seem half a step ahead of the police -- and it's soon clear to first Rachel and the Griessel that the girl has good reason not to trust the police either.
       The narrative jumps back and forth between the different investigations, including also the girl-on-the-run's perspective. Some information -- like why on earth she's being chased and her friend was killed -- is withheld until the end, but things move so fast that one barely has time to dwell on the omission.
       Griessel promises Rachel's dad he'll do everything he can to save her, but that's easier said then done. But -- surely coming as no surprise -- just in the nick of time all the pieces fall into place (well, it would have helped if they had found her just a bit earlier, but still ...).
       What's disappointing about the novel is that there's so much after-the-fact explanation, and other information that was withheld: exactly why Rachel was being hunted down, and the whole story behind that -- which turns out to be quite an elaborate criminal scheme -- as well as the whole matter of police and other corruption. "Commissioner, this thing is going to get ugly", Griessel warns at the end -- but that ugliness is never seen.
       Then there's also the dramatic final confrontation scene, which involves a firefight with some unlikely results -- as Griessel proves not to be merely mortal ..... Of course, there's still that meeting with his estranged wife to bring Griessel down to earth, but one wishes Meyer trod a bit more realistically through some of these parts: too often he relies on what amounts to the superhuman in his big showdowns.
       An interesting slice of contemporary South African life, Thirteen Hours tries to squeeze too much into that half-day -- but where it really falls short is in all that it leaves out or shoves aside. Yes, this is fine suspense and a decently-paced (if somewhat dizzying, with all its back and forth) thriller, but there could be considerably more to it.

- M.A.Orthofer, 13 June 2010

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Links:

Thirteen Hours: Reviews: Deon Meyer: Other books by Deon Meyer under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       South African author Deon Meyer was born in 1958.

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© 2010-2014 the complete review

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