South African thriller a fabulous page-turner

South Africa’s two brightest and most incorruptible police detectives have been demoted and thrown into the background for the crime of their latest book about uncovering government corruption – but at least Benny Griessel and Vaughn Cupido are still alive.

Their only hope is to keep their mouths shut and their noses clean until the next presidential election and hold their breath for things to change for the better – that would make a really exciting book, huh?

The dark flood


The dark flood

Do not worry. The gangbusting cops swallow their humiliation by being sent to a local college where a straight-laced computer nerd boy leaves the dorm Friday night and isn’t back Monday morning. Spoiler alert: they soon pick up the scent of a mysterious but hard-to-understand crime.

Meanwhile, they receive anonymous letters from someone who might be a policeman – just as gangsters ambush and murder an idealistic young cop.

At the same time, we meet a young mother working as a real estate agent; she’s heavily in debt, tasked with selling a mega-mansion for a secret owner, a creepy misogynist con man who’s cost hundreds of South Africans their life savings while keeping her plundered through a maze of numbered companies and offshore accounts. .

If this is your first murder mystery, a hint: disparate and unconnected plot threads tend to intersect in the final third of the book.

This is Deon Meyer’s Benny Griessel’s eighth book among his 17 works of fiction – and they’re damn good. They are translated from Afrikaans, this one by KL Seegers, but The dark flood doesn’t feel stuffy, the bane of some translated novels. Rather, it flows with the profane vernacular of veteran cops, somewhat incongruously sprinkled with untranslated Afrikaans phrases here and there.

Meyer’s books have been published in 27 languages, but he writes for South Africans. He doesn’t flatter outsiders with an explanation here, a footnote there, an aside for context. You are alone for geography – its priority readers know where the big cities are in relation to each other, they know the cities, the mountains, the highways, they know if a certain place is rich, they know if a suburb is suspicious.

The word apartheid never appears, nor do the names of actual people who have lived since the Boer War.

Superficially, it’s not about race – not overtly, though it’s there every minute, hidden. Meyer doesn’t tell us a character’s race – Griessel is white, Cupido Black – and that can’t always be inferred from a name. Black people informally call each other brother, sister, aunt, uncle, a subtle way of informing readers.

A youth of interest says he made a runner because that’s what young black men do when the cops come looking – not to say the cops were both black and white.

Is the South African government as corrupt as Meyer describes it? He lives there, he hasn’t been imprisoned, hasn’t been prosecuted penniless. Those of us who haven’t paid much attention to South Africa since the death of Nelson Mandela are not qualified to judge.

The dark flood is a superb police procedure. The plot, well, the less you know the better, but that’s a pretty ingenious why.

This real estate agent and sleazeball financier – Meyer doesn’t give us easy answers about what’s really going on, what’s going to happen next, but it’s a bit Hitchcockian and a really neat juxtaposition with Benny and Vaughn.

The flood, dark or not? Just read.

Nick Martin, a retired Free Press journalist, wishes he had kept an atlas handy while he read. What is this Google Maps you speak of?

If you enjoy coverage of the Manitoba arts scene, help us do more.
Your contribution of $10, $25 or more will enable Free Press to further our theater, dance, music and gallery reporting while ensuring that the widest possible audience can access our arts journalism.

Click here to learn more about the project.