The Dark Flood origins by DEON MEYER

Written by Deon Meyer


Is it just me, or is house hunting an eerie experience?

You slowly walk through the silence of some stranger’s home. You’re trying to assess the property from your own needs and perspectives, but still, you’re right there, in their inner sanctum. You can’t help but see how they live. Their tastes, their habits, their idiosyncrasies. You hear the echoes of their voices around the dinner table, you imagine the laughter in the kitchen and the arguments in the bedroom. You feel like an intruder. A voyeur.

Eerie. Like a crime scene.

Or maybe, it really is just me.

Some eleven years ago, my artist wife Marianne and I moved to the most beautiful town in all of South Africa. Stellenbosch. We rented at first, searching for a place to buy that could accommodate four children, and two adults who both work from home. At a price we could afford, in a town where the property market was red-hot at the time. For two frustrating years, we walked through house after house, experiencing that vague trespassing discomfort. Finally, we found the perfect place – and an unexpected bonus: an idea for a new novel.

The latter came through the many conversations we had with the real estate agents during our quest. They were all women, and they all had stories to tell. About the fierce competition between – and even within – agencies: the dirty tactics, the jealousy, the maneuvering, and sabotage when substantial commissions were at stake. About being in the middle of the constant conflict between ever-unhappy with the valuation sellers and bargain-hunting buyers. And often, the sexual harassment whenever they had to take moneyed men into the intimate spaces of silent, empty houses.

I added all of this to that feeling of spooky voyeurism and filed it away as research with good story potential. Back there with all the other accumulated snippets.

Over some twenty-five years of writing, I’ve learnt that some ideas will remain just that: latent novels, short stories or movie scripts that will never be explored. Unless it combines with another, like two chemicals creating a spark, lighting the fire of one’s imagination. You just have to wait for the muse …

Two years after we moved into our new home, Stellenbosch was shaken by the total meltdown of South Africa’s fastest-growing company, headquartered in the town. Massive corporate fraud saw the international retail conglomerate’s share price fall to almost nothing overnight. And many members of senior management had used their shares as collateral for expensive properties. The banks wanted new collateral which they couldn’t provide, the real estate market was suddenly flooded with posh homes, and real estate agents were in big trouble. The hot streak was over.

For me, however, the muse perked right up. Sandra Steenberg, a central character in The Dark Flood, was born. She’s a realtor, the primary breadwinner of her family (an aspiring writer husband and two delightful kids).  She’s deeply in debt and really battling to make ends meet. So, when Jasper Boonstra singles Sandra out to sell his multi-million-rand wine farm, it’s a golden opportunity to permanently keep the wolf from the door. The problem is, Jasper is a corporate fraudster and a sexual predator.

As I was developing the story, I sensed that the consequences of this very stormy relationship were not going to be enough to make life hard enough for my usual two detectives, Benny Griessel and Vaughn Cupido. I needed one more element to up the ante.

It came, like so many ideas do, when I least expected it. During dinner in a tiny hamlet in the Great Karoo[1].

It so happens that the legendary chief of detectives for the South African Police Service in the Western Cape Province, Major-General Jeremy Vearey, is the published author of two brilliant autobiographies. And as luck would have it, he and his wife agreed to dine with me and Marianne when we attended the same literary festival in a town called Prince Albert.

Amongst his many talents, Jeremy is a great raconteur. That night, he told us the fascinating story of how he and his team investigated – and successfully prosecuted – one of the most notorious arms dealers in the country. It was the motivation behind the criminal mastermind that resonated with me and the novel I was developing. Greed. It was the final piece of the puzzle.

By the time I completed The Dark Flood, the last of our children had left the nest. And it was time for me and Marianne to go house hunting in Stellenbosch again. For something smaller.

The property market was heating up again (you just can’t catch a break), the rivalries between estate agents had resumed, and we once again traipsed through other people’s homes. And somehow, thanks to Sandra Steenberg and Jasper Boonstra, the experience was even a little more eerie this time round.

But we did find the perfect place.

The Dark Flood by Deon Meyer is published by Hodder & Stoughton on 14th April at £18.99
Deon Meyer interviewed by Lee Child - 21st April, 2022

[1] The Great Karoo is the vast semi-desert region in the central and western parts of Southern Africa.

Deon Meyer

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