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Perfect Crime: Michele Magwood Reviews Deon Meyer’s Icarus

By Michele Magwood for the Sunday Times

Deon Meyer (Hodder & Stoughton)
***** (five stars)

It’s not done, surely, to bark with laughter when reading a crime novel, but Deon Meyer’s latest book Icarus has many moments of sheer comedy. The reek of cauliflower from Major Mbali Kaleni’s office, for example, now that she’s Banting. Followers of the Benny Griessel books know her, fondly, for her furtive gobbling of chocolate and KFC, so when she embraces “Prof Tim’s” philosophy, and frowns on Vaughn Cupido’s Speckled Eggs, it is splutteringly funny. Cupido is not amused by her new zeal, but, “He let it go, because an argument with Mbali was like a Sumo wrestling match – you could never get a decent grip, and afterwards, it left you all sweaty and unsatisfied.”

There’s the deadpanning duo from Forensics, a sort of Laurel and Hardy of the lab known as Thick and Thin, “the tortoises to the Hawks’ hares”, and Benny in a session with the psychotherapist: “‘We must explore whether that is causing your depression and drinking habits.’ Must explore. Fok. As if he were some kind of wilderness.”

Benny is drinking again, shoved off the wagon by a colleague’s killing of his family and himself. For most of the book we witness his sweating, racking struggle to conquer the booze again, his pockets clinking with miniatures of Jack Daniels. Cupido is desperately covering up for him and steps up to the plate as the leader of the investigation into a new murder.

Meyer has a knack for the zeitgeist, for plugging in to the topical, and in Icarus this knack is prescient.
The body discovered in the dunes of Blouberg is that of Ernst Richter, young MD of an audacious startup called Alibi. The motto of the company is “All Pleasure. No Stress” and it delivers what it promises: alibis. Need cover for a dirty weekend or a few hours of passion? Alibi will provide false appointments, receipts and phone calls at a price. And, with the threat of an Ashley Madison-like client reveal looming, there are many people who want Richter dead.

Meyer has perfected structure and pace, reveals and red herrings, chapter beats, plot and subplot but he enriches the story with fascinating detail. In his last book Cobra, for instance, we learned of the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme and the shadowy world of the professional assassin. He salts Icarus with Tinder and other social media, and introduces us to “zero-day vulnerabilities”, the hidden back doors in computer software that hackers can use to hijack data. He lays bare the racket of the old KWV, “the narrow-minded, strict, conservative, prescriptive, rule-bound, Broederbond-controlled wine farmer’s co-operative, which at that time was merely an extension of the apartheid government.” He also draws aside the curtain on the international wine trade. In latter books Meyer has deepened his characterisation. Here he brings in a golden boy who is a psychopath and another young man on the autistic spectrum, a brilliant computer programmer who has “social interaction issues”.

We learn more about the other Hawks: Major Bones Bashigo, the newly-married forensic finance wizard, and George Clooney lookalike Mooiwillem Liebenberg. Best of all, he beckons Captain Vaughn Cupido to the foreground. He fleshes him out, has him fall in love, endearingly, and examines the relationship between the two men. Cupido implores Benny to stop drinking: “The heart of the matter is, I can’t be Vaughn the Terrible, if you aren’t Benny the Sober. It’s like that line in the movies – you complete me.” Benny snorts, “And now you’re going to kiss me.”

Will Cupido’s love be requited? We’ll have to wait and see.

Follow Michele Magwood on Twitter @michelemagwood

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