Written by Deon Meyer

Review written by Ali Karim

Ali Karim was a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.

Hodder and Stoughton
RRP: £14.99
Released: June 15 2017

The new novel from award-wining South African crime writer Deon Meyer is a stark departure from his bestselling Benny Griessel thrillers; though FEVER at its core remains firmly a crime novel. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, it explores the relationship of a teenage boy Nico and his father, Willem Storm when faced with a dangerous new world.

Structurally this hypnotic and hefty thriller is interesting, as well as strangely comforting as it is a coming-of-age tale, as well as a philosophical lament on humanity and its problematical relationships between peoples, as well as our environment. Though an extremely thrilling adventure story and one that can be read as just that (a fast moving thriller); Meyer’s post-apocalyptic tale’s real virtue is its ability to provoke deep thought in the reader as it reflects upon human nature, and our place on Earth (conscious beings with a feral side to our existence). There is little doubt that the dark side of our nature is an essential evolutionary tool, but when faced with times of fear and scarcity, it also becomes something more.

A mutated viral epidemic which starts under a mango tree in Africa, soon engulfs the world within weeks, leaving over ninety percent of the World’s population dead and dying, while the few survivors (with lottery-like genetic immunity) soon find themselves at the mercy of feral dogs, as well as from marauding gangs, and disease.

Nico and his Father Willem survive the epidemic by chance. They had been in the hills exploring a recently discovered cave dwelling when the virus struck, bringing civilisation to its knees. After rescuing a women named Melinda from the unspeakable clutches of two violent brigands, Nico saves his father’s life, and in so doing finds his role reversed becoming the son with a gun, and one not frightened to use it to protect Willem.

Soon Willem and Nico meet others on their travels, setting up a community of sorts, named Amanzi, close to a major dam that they manage to harness to generate power via hydroelectricity. Soon, the community takes shape growing in number thanks to Willem and Nico seeding the surrounding land with postcards telling other survivors about their new home, a place of shelter named Amanzi – thanks to the so-called Hennie Fly, and his diesel powered Cessna dropping the handwritten leaflets of hope.

Willem works tirelessly in creating this new world, though being the man in charge poses challenges with his relationship to his son – who is not only grieving for the loss of his Mother, the loss of the world he once knew but also confronting the loss of childhood.

A political power struggle arises with the arrival of the evangelical Christian pastor Nikosi Sebago and his congregation that grows within Amanzi as people search for answers to why this horror has come to Mankind. Willem’s secular viewpoint is at odds to the Pastor’s preaching so he reluctantly aligns himself with the mysterious ex-soldier Domingo, who becomes the new community’s protector. Domingo also becomes a surrogate father in the mind of Nico, who grows more and more distant to his real father Willem, and so the stage is set for the struggles that lie ahead for this disparate band of humanity.

The reason why this novel is not only interesting thematically, but also structurally is that its shape takes the form of the recollections of a grown-up Nico Storm. Many of these recollections are not linear for reasons that become apparent on reading this richly textured narrative; which is peppered with insights of life before the virus took hold, as well as the hellish days that followed.

There are vignettes scattered throughout FEVER that make you pause, make you reflect and ponder what it is about us that makes us human, as well as the thinness of the line that separates us from all that is feral, wild and dangerous – both within humanity as well as outside – the inhumanity of our situation. The story of a survivor, who used to own an ‘all you can eat' buffet before the fever came, and why he closed it down becomes the novel in microcosm.

At its core FEVER is a crime thriller, because it details the investigation by Nico Storm as to why the founder of Amanzi – Willem Storm – was murdered.

Multiple viewpoints and the non-linear nature of the passage of time disorientate the reader so we become ensnared and terrified inside the unfolding drama, and sucked into this ravaged world which Meyer crafts with the precision of a master storyteller.

The pace is unrelenting and despite its length and dark subject matter, it is paradoxically a very fast read, as well as an extremely upbeat story. The tale reflects on the good within humanity as a social animal, but one which has a dark shadow where morality and the care for others becomes compromised when fear and scarcity knock on our doors.

This thriller is designed to make you think about our situation, the social constructs we build around our society and how the veneer between the civilised and the feral is gossamer thin. This observation is most evident in the overflowing waste-bins of the ‘all you can eat’ buffet after the doors are closed; while in the villages of the poor, children still go to sleep crying with empty stomachs.

Deon Meyer should be applauded for this brutal, unflinching tale of the excesses of humanity coiled like a python around a coming-of-age tale; one that makes one think deeply about the human condition as it entertains as well as warns of the dangers ahead, for our dark-side maybe our undoing, as well as our salvation – for we are all feral – given the right context.

Miss this insightful thriller at your peril, because as crime thrillers go, this is the big summer read of 2017. 


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