A new African thriller, Blood Safari

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

MARCO WERMAN: We stay in Africa -- so to speak -- but we're going to switch to a very different topic. It's a book from South Africa called Blood Safari. The author is Deon Meyer. It caught the attention of The World's book critic, Christopher Merrill. And Chris, I learned two things while reading this book: And I'm still in it, so don't spoil anything for me. First of all, South Africans are very security conscious, and two -- Chris, you love a big sexy novel, don't you? [LAUGHS]

CHRISTOPHER MERRILL: [LAUGHS] And this is a big sexy novel. It's a suspenseful story, told by a private security guard who has a very checkered past. And he has been assigned the task of serving as an �invisible.� That's somebody who's gonna go around without a gun, and protect the very beautiful Emma Le Roux.

WERMAN: Right. And she's trying to find her long lost brother, who she thought was actually dead for many years.

MERRILL: She thought he was dead, and then there's a crime up near the Kruger National Park, the game reserve. A witch doctor and three of his men have been murdered. And the suspect is somebody who looks just like what her brother would look like if he had survived another 20 years. So she and the bodyguard, Lemmer, set out in search of him.

WERMAN: It's not as big and sexy, though, as you said. It's suspenseful but it's also clever and funny.

MERRILL: Well, it's funny because Lemmer has all these rules: Don't get involved with rich Afrikaners, the novel's written in Afrikaans. Don't get involved with small women, they're always gonna break your heart. They're not to be trusted. And then of course the rules get thrown out the window as he falls in love with Emma, and he's working for a rich Afrikaner. And he views the world with a pretty jaundiced eye that is very funny.

WERMAN: You know, there's this crazy scene right at the beginning of the novel where they actually go to the park for the first time and they're staying at this lodge, and a snake, this giant black mamba comes into the house. And it was so well told. I mean, I was in bed still shivering pages after that scene.

MERRILL: It's a terrifying scene. One of the deadliest snakes in the world is thrashing around the room and Lemmer's' gotta protect not only Emma Le Roux, but he's gotta keep himself from getting killed. And there comes a moment where you think �Oh my God, he's been bitten, he's gonna die.�

WERMAN: Right. I mean, this is a black mamba. And in West Africa they call it �the cigarette snake,� �cause if you get bitten by it, you've got enough time to smoke a cigarette, and then you're dead. [LAUGHS]

MERRILL: [LAUGHS] Gee! Well, and you think he's gotten bitten, and it's one of those terrific diversions that Deon Meyer is always setting up.

WERMAN: So you've got this book, Blood Safari, with these two compelling characters, Lemmer and then Emma Le Roux, but there's another character in this novel, and that's contemporary South Africa itself. You've got race, reconciliation, resentment, environment, tourism. They're all propelling this novel along.

MERRILL: Well, they are, because let's face it. The land is beautiful, there's the great possibility of tourism, but what's gonna happen to these game reserves? Well some people wanna protect the land. And on one side you have environmentalists, on the other side, people who wanna develop the land. In the middle of all this, a crime has been committed. So, what the writer is trying to give us a sense of are all the competing claims on the new South Africa.

WERMAN: Chris, you often read to us, so allow me to read to you just a little bit from the book, and then I have a question for you. �Lemmer's Law of Rich Afrikaners: If a Rich Afrikaner can show off, he will. The first thing a Rich Afrikaner buys is bigger boobs for his wife. The second thing a Rich Afrikaner buys is an expensive pair of dark glasses with brand name prominently displayed, which he only removes when it is totally dark. It serves to create the first barrier between himself and the poor: I can see you, but you can't see me any more. The third thing the Rich Afrikaner buys is a double story house in the Tuscan style. And the fourth is a vanity number plate for his car with his name, or the number of his rugby jersey.� Geez! How critical is this guy of Afrikaner society generally?

MERRILL: [LAUGHS] Oh my God, he really can't stand his forebears. His father was abusive, he's really thinking back over 3 centuries of the Dutch settlement of South Africa. He understands their role in the rise of apartheid. He really cannot stand the role that they play in the new South Africa, and yet he's gotta defend. He's gotta guard somebody who comes from that very class. And he feels responsible for the fact that she gets shot! He let her down. So, even though he has all these terrible feelings about the Rich Afrikaners, he also has a shred of integrity. He wants to do his job. He wants to know who committed the various crimes at the heart of this book.

WERMAN: And from what you know about the writer Deon Meyer, do you think he's expressing some personal views in this criticism of Afrikaner life?

MERRILL: Well, he doesn't pull any punches that's for sure. I don't know the author directly but I admire a writer who's not afraid to have his characters speak their minds. And that's exactly what goes on here.

WERMAN: The World's book critic, Chris Merrill. Thank you for speaking your mind. You direct the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. Always good to talk to you Chris.

MERRILL: Thank you, Marco.

WERMAN: And you can get more details about Deon Meyer's thriller Blood Safari at our website, theworld.org.