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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Dead before Dying

Deon Meyer

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To purchase Dead before Dying

Title: Dead before Dying
Author: Deon Meyer
Genre: Novel
Written: 1996 (Eng. 1999)
Length: 342 pages
Original in: Afrikaans
Availability: Dead before Dying - US
Dead before Dying - UK
Dead before Dying - Canada
Dead Before Dying - India
Jusqu'au dernier - France
Der traurige Polizist - Deutschland
Doppio colpo - Italia
  • Afrikaans title: Feniks
  • Translated by Madeleine van Biljon

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Our Assessment:

B : a bit much of everything, but a decent read

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Dead before Dying is a two-tiered police procedural. In the main investigation Mat Joubert leads the chase for a killer who is dispatching the victims with an ancient Mauser. The seemingly unrelated murders follow in rapid order -- and, stirred up by the media, the public is understandably concerned. Meanwhile there's also someone going around robbing banks, his hallmarks his elaborate disguises and friendly manner; it's not as serious as the Mauser-murderer (though things do get more complicated), but it also attracts a lot of media attention -- and becomes the case Benny Griessel handles.
       Joubert and Griessel have a lot to deal with, first and foremost, as the story -- and the crime sprees -- begin, there's their new boss, Colonel Bart de Wit. It's a new South Africa, and change is in the air and he has his own particular way of doing things. And certain expectations: the police, too, must shape up -- literally, in the cases of Joubert and Griessel. Joubert is overweight and out of shape, while Griessel drinks too much. And Joubert is also lugging some very heavy baggage around, not having gotten over the death of his wife a couple of years earlier yet, so he also is sent to see a psychologist.
       The story focusses on Joubert, wrestling with his own demons and stumped by a murder-spree that seems to make no sense. The key, of course, is to find the connexion between the victims, but all he can see for the longest time is that: "There was one connection -- the bare fact that there was no connection". His personal life is also complicated, not least by the women who more or less throw themselves at him, while he hasn't come to terms with the death of his great love yet. As it turns out, he's most attracted to his psychologist, Hanna, but since he's her patient that presents a whole new set of problems.
       Meyer keeps the action zipping along, moving between the various scenes of murder and investigation, therapy and socializing. There are a lot of threads dangling all over -- the numerous victims and their families, Joubert and his past and present (down to the mundane: going on a diet and getting some exercise), the bank robberies. Still, it's a straightforward police procedural, and in both cases as soon as enough evidence has been collected and enough people have contributed pieces of information it all fits together. The explanation(s) are adequate if (especially in the case of the serial killer) a bit convenient, and Meyer has perhaps put a bit much on his plate, but there's a decent shock-effect in how it all plays out.
       In fact, Dead before Dying does read very much like an early work, a writer getting his feet wet. So he sometimes goes too far with the characters, trying too hard to give them (and explain) as many dimensions as possible. But it's more than a paint-by-the-numbers thriller, and clear that a writer of some talent is at work here. He's trying too hard (especially with Joubert and the women), but even so he manages quite well.
       Hardly exceptional, but a decent thriller-read.

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Dead before Dying: 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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