Devil’s Peak – A Straightforward but Gruesome Story
Trigger Warnings: Sexual assault, vulgar descriptions of sex, graphic violence, alcoholism, paedophilia, murder, child abuse, domestic abuse
(Basically, very disturbing and gruesome and violent, so if you don’t like that sort of stuff, don’t read the book…)
I started reading Devil’s Peak for the Africa prompt of the #continentalreadathon because, well…it’s the only thriller book I found written by an African author (Deon Meyer is South African) and available at a somewhat reasonable price.
I have…mixed feelings about this book. And by mixed feelings, I mean that when I look back at the story and the writing, I wonder how I managed to finish such a disturbing piece of work!
But I’ll get to that in a minute.
First, the blurb:
The peaceful life of Thobela Mpayipheli, a war veteran, is disrupted when his beloved son is killed, setting him on a path for revenge – against the people who killed his son and against the corrupt justice system that just can’t seem to keep criminals in prison. His victims are the lowest of the low – the people who commit crimes against children.
Benny Griessel, a fading policeman who’s succumbed to alcohol, has been thrown out of his home with an ultimatum – get clean or never come back. Humiliated, lonely, and on the verge of losing his job, he’s assigned to the case of the vigilante serial killer. This case is his last chance to redeem himself, and a challenge that’ll distract him from his addiction to the drink.
Christine Van Rooyen is a prostitute and a young mother who’s just…there, for some reason.
When the paths of these three people collide, their lives will change forever in dark and disturbing ways…
So here’s the thing: I had expected this to be a thriller – a suspense-filled, crime-fighting adventure story.
But there was hardly any suspense in the book! I mean, I did wonder why Christine was there in the story, and what horrible thing would happen when the three of them met, and stuff…but I was never in suspense.
There was no “aha” moment where everything was revealed; no real plot twists (we knew the killer and how he was killing people and why); not even a huge puzzle as to how the police would catch the guy.
The only thing I kept wondering throughout was, “Why the heck is there a story in the first place?” And you know what, till the end, I didn’t actually understand the point of all that graphic violence and the vulgar sexual descriptions, and the horribleness. Maybe it was just a reflection of the lives of those kinds of people? I don’t know…
And all this doesn't even take into consideration some of the problematic themes in the book:
- Every time someone was mentioned, their race was specifically pointed out, especially if they were "coloured". I'm not sure if that's how they think about people in South Africa, but all I could think was, "A white guy has written this."
- Casual misogyny. For example, in one scene, Benny (our hero) gets annoyed when a woman asks him to address her as "Ms" and not "Mrs". Again, this might just be character development, because Benny is shown as this angry, flawed person. It could also be because this book was published way back in 2004. But I still noticed it and disliked it because even mentions of such things contribute to the raging patriarchy right now.
If you’re questioning why I even finished the book when I’m such an advocate of DNFing books I don’t like, well, it’s a question I asked myself as well.
I dug into my own thoughts and realised that the book did have some redeeming qualities…
- For one, the character development – it was simply amazing. Everyone got a solid backstory, even Benny’s children, who don’t actually get that much screen time (or whatever the bookish equivalent is). I especially got attached to Benny, imperfect and utterly unlovable as he was, and I was really curious what would happen to him in the book.
- For another, everyone had a distinct voice and tone in the book (which was in third person). That’s not easy when there are so many characters, so I respect the author for being able to do that.
- Also, I think I’ve got to hand it to the author – he somehow made the story intriguing even when it was straightforward and not suspenseful at all!
As I said before, I have mixed feelings about this book. I like that it kept me interested till the end, at least…but I don’t like that it had to be violent and grisly for that. I like that the characters were given depth, but I didn’t like the characters themselves. And…well, I felt that the life-altering things that happen to the characters were needlessly tragic and completely pointless (no spoilers!)
I recommend this book to fans of Sidney Sheldon (this reminded me heavily of that guy’s books, although I’ve DNFed every single one of those) and those whose day (or week!) doesn’t get spoiled a gruesome and pointlessly tragic story that teaches you nothing.
About the Author
Born in Paarl, a city in South Africa, Deon Meyer is a South African crime fiction author and screenwriter, whose books have been translated into 27 languages worldwide. He grew up in South Africa and did a BA in English and History at Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education.
He worked as a journalist at Die Volksblad, a copywriter at Sanlam, and at the PR office of the University of the Free State where he did an Honours course. After Sanlam, he started his own virtual community management business, and also managed special projects at BMW motorcycles.
His novel writing career began when a short story he wrote was published in Husgenoot, an Afrikaans magazine. He has published thirteen novels and two short story collections, out of which one book was turned into an international TV series. In addition to authoring books, he’s also written two TV series and four screenplays, and has produced and directed Afrikaans movies.
He writes all his books in his native language, Afrikaans, most of which he’s written in the historical coastal resort of Melkbosstrand.