South Africa behind the scenes through detective novels and thrillers

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Visiting wineries can sometimes take longer than expected. Usually, that is a good thing. But this time it was a big frustration. For me, but not for anyone else. In fact, we had some excellent tastings and discussions with the winemakers at the chateaux we were visiting when I was touring the wine regions of Bordeaux a few years back. But we were late back to the city of Bordeaux. No problem, except for me. I had, by chance, discovered that one of my favourite authors, who happens to be from South Africa, was in Bordeaux to present his latest book at Mollat, the incredible extraordinary bookshop in Bordeaux. The presentation was to start at 6 PM… No, I did not make it. No, I did not meet him. Yes, I still read his books.

Entertainment – this is the primary objective of detective novels and thrillers. And that is the main yardstick with which to judge them too. But if on top of that you can learn a bit more about something, for example, about the society in which it takes place, then that’s an added plus. Provided it does not distract from the story.

South Africa has some very talented writers in this genre that can give you a little bit of added insight into this complex and tormented – but fantastic and beautiful with so many kind people – country. Here are a few I recommend.

South African thriller books
South African thriller books, copyright BKWine Photography

Deon Meyer

Deon Meyer was the first South African thriller writer I discovered. And Meyer was the one I never met in Bordeaux. He has written a series of books about the Cape Town detective Benny Griessel, a rather complicated personality, ex-alcoholic with a difficult family life:

  • Devils Peak (2004)
  • Thirteen Hours (2009)
  • Seven Days (2011)
  • Cobra (2014)  – that even takes place among the South African vineyards
  • Icarus (2015)

He has also written several more or less independent novels / thrillers, some of which feature the same personalities:

  • Dead Before Dying (1996) – my edition of this has at the end an interesting short text by Meyer about South African society and how much progress it has seen since the end of apartheid.
  • Dead at Daybreak (2000)
  • Heart of the Hunter (2002)
  • Blood Safari (2007)
  • Trackers (2010)
  • Fever (2016)

He has written some other books too, short stories and television / film scripts, and been a television and film producer.

All of his books are eminently readable. I have a slight preference for those that are not in the Benny Grissel series. They tend to be more engaging and also a bit more about South Africa, some stretching far outside of Cape Town. The best is to read them in chronological order. I certainly recommend all of them!

Mike Nicol

Mike Nicol is a South African journalist and author living in Cape Town. He has written several books, three of which are in a series about Mace Bishop and Pylon Buso:

  • Payback (2008)
  • Killer Country (2010)
  • Black Heart (2011)

Mace and Pylon are running a small security company providing protection for very rich foreigners who come to visit the country. They are trying to live a quiet and peaceful life together with their families after having been involved in the fight against apartheid in the less savoury business to selling weapons (although they did it for the “good” side). But their hope of a normal life in Cape Town is difficult to achieve. I have read the two first books in the series. A good read!

South African crime novels
South African crime novels, copyright BKWine Photography

Paul Mendelson

Paul Mendelson is actually British but his three novels take place in Cape Town. The books’ main character is colonel Vaughn de Vries, a police officer in the Cape Town Special Crimes Unit of the South African Police Service (SAPS):

Three excellent books both for their suspense and for the way they take you into the South African society.

Perhaps you have others to suggest and recommend?

And, of course, if you want to enjoy South Africa from a different perspective, the food, the wines and the landscape, come on a wine tour to South Africa with us!

One of the colourful houses on Long Street in Cape Town, South Africa
One of the colourful houses on Long Street in Cape Town, South Africa, copyright BKWine Photography

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