Heart of The Hunter
By Deon Meyer
Little, Brown, July, 2004,
385 pages, $23.95
A spare, stark and brutal portrayal of deceit, treason, and underhanded maneuvering in the modern intelligence services of South Africa.
This is a powerful, subtle, inside look at the realities of political strife in the modern Union of south Africa. A former soldier in the Struggle, a black assassin recruited by the KGB, leaves that life when the Soviet Union collapses, works as a benign enforcer for a South African drug baron and ultimately finds a kind of peace for himself as an ordinary worker in a Johannesburg cycle shop. Once the evils of apartheid were overthrown and Nelson Mandela’s ANC became the ruling party, all of the secrets and the secret police were brought into the sun and the daylight and disposed of. Right?
Unfortunately, not everybody fared well in the new South Africa. Many soldiers who made significant contributions were simply cast aside and Thobela Mpayipheli, a legend in the Struggle, was one such soldier. When the story opens, he has found a good woman and her young son and they have begun to forge a life for themselves. And then out of Thobela’s past, comes the daughter an old friend. The friend has been kidnapped and will be murdered unless Thobela delivers, far to the north, a computer disk encoded with secret data.
To accomplish his task, a reluctant Thobela must first “borrow” a powerful German motorcycle and make his way to a city across the northern border, through Botswana and into Zambia. Soon, arrayed against him, are the forces of three military and intelligence services, a scattering of foreign agents, and his own efforts to fulfill his obligation to his old friend yet not slip back into the dark morass of undercover brutality.
This is a thriller of massive proportions. The cast of interesting and conflicted characters are always easy to identify. Within the structure of a conventional suspense novel, Deon Myer has inserted a twisty mystery that enhances and encourages the enjoyment readers will find here. In translation the suspense and entwined convolutions of desperate intelligence agents, battling their own political circumstances and their moral constructs, are enhanced by unfamiliar rhythms of the language. The “imperfect” translation adds to the texture of this fine novel, a subtle book, timely in its examination of the decay that misguided belief in justification of a moral certitude at any cost can bring. Discerning readers will recognize interesting parallels to western nations in this cautionary tale.