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ICARUS by Deon Meyer: Book Review

Until reading Icarus, my main exposure to the South African mystery genre was through the wonderful novels of James McClure that featured the interracial police duo of Tromp Kramer and Mickey Zondi.  I took it as a personal loss when the series, which was not long enough in my opinion, ended more than twenty years ago.  But now I have a new South African author to follow.

Deon Meyer is very well-known in his home country but was unknown to me until I picked up his latest mystery.  If all his books are as brilliant as this one, I’ve really been missing out.

South Africa has obviously changed a great deal since the official end of apartheid in 1994.  Now the Cape Town police department is totally integrated, with men and women who are white, black, and coloured, the latter meaning people of mixed-race ancestry.   In Icarus, the two main characters are Captain Benny Griessel, who is white, and Vaughn Cupido, who is coloured; the two make the most professional team in the South African Priority Crimes Investigation unit.  There is a problem, however, that hangs over them.  Benny Griessel is a recovering alcoholic and on the verge of relapse after more than two years of sobriety.

The reason for his return to drinking is explained at the beginning of the novel.  His close friend and former colleague, Vollie Fish, has just murdered his wife and two daughters and then turned his gun on himself.  Benny understands only too well the reason for the murders and suicide, a reason that he’s afraid one day might cause him to do something similar.  That is what made Benny, nicknamed Benna, turn into the Fireman’s Arms and order, in quick succession, six double whiskies.  He drinks to kill the fear that never leaves him.

The body of social media magnate Ernst Richter has been found, more than a month after his disappearance.  Ernst was the founder and director of, an internet company that arranges alibis for people involved in extra-marital or illicit affairs.  The company can create forged airline tickets, receipts for rooms at conferences the clients were supposed to have attended, restaurant checks for alleged business dinners–you get the idea.’s slogan is All pleasure.  No stress.  Not too subtle, but it attracted thousands of people eager to find a way to have their cake and eat it too.

Interspersed with the chapters following Benna and the department’s search for Ernst’s killer, there are chapters detailing the conversations of advocate Susan Peires and her latest client, François du Toit.  François is the fourth generation in his family to control a vineyard, the Klein Zegen Estate in Stellenbosch, in a town in the Western Cape Province of the country.  Although the lawyer is eager to get the details of why François wants to hire her, he tells her he must start at the beginning so that she’ll understand everything that led up to where he is today.  And that means a family saga of four generations of the du Toits.

Deon Meyer shifts his focus between Benna, the search for Ernst’s murderer, and the history of the wine farm.  They all connect in the end, but it’s the deft unraveling of the threads that connect them that makes Icarus such a great read.  When I got to the last pages I was figuratively holding my breath, waiting to see how it would all be resolved.

You can read more about Deon Meyer at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

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