Book Review: Dead Before Dying by Deon Meyer

Hello Everyone!

Today’s review is on Dead Before Dying by Deon Meyer.


 I chose this book because it came up on a list on Novelist of thrillers to read. I was also intrigued by the fact that it was set in Cape Town, South Africa (where I grew up) and that it had been translated from Afrikaans. I was interested to see how some of the South African slang translated across into audiobook format, especially since the narrator is British, not South African.

Captain Mat Joubert is still grieving over the death of his wife from almost three years ago when he is called to investigate the murder of a businessman who has been shot with a century-old gun. While trying to crack the case, two more men end up dead, both with the same weapon as the first victim, but there is seemingly no connection between the three of them. It doesn’t help that while tracking down the serial killer, there is also a bank robber on the loose that is hitting various banks across the Cape. Are the killer and bank robber the same person? Will they be apprehended? These are the questions that will be answered by the end of Dead Before Dying. 

There were a lot of reasons why I expected to love this book, mainly because it is set in my home town and a lot of the landmarks mentioned throughout are areas that I am familiar with. The mystery was interesting, however there were some pretty graphic sex scenes, and a graphic rape scene towards the end of the novel that made me feel very uncomfortable. Especially since one of the scenes is a main character, who is 35, and his 18 year old neighbor (even though she isn’t a minor, it was honestly just gross). There was also a lot of unnecessary cussing, which is also a big turn off for me personally.

Again, the plot itself was pretty good, however there were flashback scenes and dream sequences that were never really identified as such and I was left trying to figure out how things had escalated so quickly when meanwhile it was just the character daydreaming. I also appreciated hearing the different places that were mentioned, and even some of the slang that was used that I haven’t heard in while, however there were certain names where it was obvious that the narrator was not South African because he overcompensated on the pronunciation.

Captain Mat Joubert was an interesting character, who had some redeeming qualities, but it also seemed like it was constantly thinking about sex, especially when there was a single female in his presence. It was interesting to see him grapple with his life starting to fall apart and striving to regain some control over it, even if it means going to see a psychologist and giving up cigarettes. In a lot of ways he is a good modern depiction of the hard-boiled detectives of old (e.g. Philip Marlowe), but his story is definitely not for everyone, especially those who don’t like reading constantly about the sexual desires of the character.

It was also interesting to see how, even though he is extremely flawed, he does look out for his friends, especially Benny Griesel who has a drinking problem. I also liked getting to know Hannah Norte (?) the psychologist who seemed very sweet and was shocked to find out how she was involved in the case.

I found it interesting that Meyer gave readers the bank robbery scenes, as well as some murder scenes to keep us guessing as to who was the killer, especially when one of the suspects ends up dead. I also appreciated a few scenes that we got from several of victim before they were murdered because it gave more dimension as to who they were and why they might have been murdered. In the end, it was interesting to see how it was a previously committed act of rape that was the motive behind the murders, which was shocking, and I felt like there was no necessity for all the gory details of that particular scene, which the author provides anyway.

Overall, while the majority of the plot is pretty decent, the novel suffers from an overload of sexual innuendos and descriptions that some might find disconcerting. However, maybe because I listened to the audiobook I was able to pick up on it more than if I was just simply reading the physical book. 2/5 Stars.

Happy Reading,

Janelle L. C.

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