Dead at Daybreak, the second mystery novel by South African writer Deon Meyer (Heart Of The Hunter and Dead Before Dying) published in North America, breaks every single rule of your usual hard boiled detective novel and more than gets away with it. If you are a little tired of the usual detective novel with your basically good main character investigating some case with the assistance of his reliable second banana associate, Dead At Daybreak is a book you will enjoy. If you think the mystery novel is simply popcorn for the mind, and there’s nothing wrong with that, this book by Deon Meyer will make you change your mind about the genre while you have a great time reading it.

This is a very intelligent, well-written, bizarre detective novel where the mystery lies more with who is the main character than the case he is investigating. Zatopek Van Haarden is a very cultured former police detective whose life has fallen apart and whose joy in life is to keep seeding the dark cloud that hangs over his head. Although Van Haarden has been hired by attorney Hope Beneke to solve a gangland style murder in seven days so her client can recover the will that was stolen from the dead man’s safe, this mystery novel and Deon Meyer focus a lot more attention on what has made the detective such a self-destructive wreck.

Meyer is an excellent writer and there is not a single bad moment in this novel aside from the passage on page 147 where Hope Beneke describes Celine Dion as universally loved and a chapter on playing rugby in Russia. He elegantly and seamlessly switches from a first person to a third person point of view as you get either Van Haarden’s vision or the omniscient narrator’s vision of things. This is rather unusual in a detective novel, as is the occasional passage where secondary characters also take up the narration for a while. Also unusual is Van Haarden’s very self-conscious narration at times.

Deon Meyer is also able to juggle quite a few stories while he is at it: Van Haarden’s childhood and adolescence, the savage murder of his neighbor, a woman he had the hots for as a very young man, the murder of his former partner, the search for what makes him tick so out of time, and his investigation of the case he has been hired to work.

Dead at Daybreak is an excellent mystery novel that will make you want to check out other detective books by Meyer. One only wishes Little Brown would publish them in their original sequence.

Dead At Daybreak
Deon Meyer
Originally published in Afrikaans 2000
Little Brown and Company 2006
Paperback 487 pages

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