Trackers, the standalone novel from South African thriller writer Deon Meyer, is three stories in one, linked, but not immediately obviously, thus leaving the reader with the satisfying challenge of piecing the full story together from a wealth of compelling narrative and fascinating detail.
Meyer has made a name for himself writing gripping novels that offer a balance between action, investigation and piercing insight into the social, political and economic situation of his homeland.
Trackers delivers on all these levels, offering, inter alia: a breath-taking race through the bush with a pair of smuggled rhinos; an absorbing study of the pressures, ambitions and challenges of operating in the country's intelligence agencies; and a number of intimate portraits of grown-up, multi-dimensional characters struggling to make their way through lives afflicted or touched by numerous and varied personal and societal pressures.
The first story introduces us to Mill Strachan, an abused housewife who summons the courage to walk out on her husband and son and finds herself a new role as a writer and analyst for the a branch of the South African intelligence services. Strachan arrives at the perfect moment, just as her bosses are convincing themselves that terrorists are planning an attack on Cape Town. As that plot thickens, so Strachan becomes ever more embroiled in her work as the story leads to a dramatic conclusion.
Next we find Lemmer - who has appeared in previous Meyer books - a troubled and violent soul who is enlisted from the relative tranquility of his home in the bush to embark upon a hazardous journey across the country to rescue endagered rhinos from Zimbabwe. On a violent and dangerous return journey from the border, Lemmer slowly realises that he has been sold a dummy and turns his attention to uncovering the real reason behind his cross-country flight.
Finally we are introduced to Mat Joubert, a former senior police officer on his first day as a private investigator. Uncomfortable before he even starts the job, Joubert is almost immediately disillusion by commercial reality when a female client struggles to pay for the services that might help her find her missing husband.
There are a number of reasons why Trackers works so well, but first among them is the authenticity of Meyer's major protagonists who carry each of the three novellas that make up the whole. They in turn are well served by a plethora of supporting cast members, none of whose roles is superfluous. Next, Meyer - as I discovered in Thirteen Hours - has a tremendous feel for plot, producing a narrative that is surprisingly difficult to put down.
I read elsewhere that each of the stories would work as a standalone novel. I'm not quite sure I would agree with that, but each of the three is satisfying, and way they are pulled together to form the whole is very skilful and immensely enjoyable.