When a plastic-wrapped corpse is found amidst the sand dunes north of Cape Town, it doesn’t take long for the police to identify the body as Ernst Richter—the tech whiz behind MyAlibi, an Internet service that provides unfaithful partners with sophisticated cover stories to hide their affairs.
The murder quickly becomes the subject of fierce media speculation, with questions swirling about potential motives and perpetrators. Maybe it was one of MyAlibi’s countless jilted spouses, or perhaps an aggrieved client. With a spotlight shining on the investigation, detective Benny Griessel’s boss wants him on the case—and he won’t take no for an answer.
Before the week is out, a connection to a storied family winery comes to light and adds another layer of tension. But Griessel will have to make sure his suspicions are beyond the shadow of a doubt—or it might be his head on the chopping block.
“Meyer . . . has long been hailed as South Africa’s greatest crime writer. Icarus places him firmly in the top international league.” —The Times (London)
“Meyer has perfected structure and pace, reveals and red herrings, chapter beats, plot and subplot but he enriches the story with fascinating detail.” —The Sunday Times
“A meticulously crafted portrait of modern-day South Africa, Icarus is a spellbinding tour de force.” —New York Journal of Books
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Heaven and earth conspired to expose Ernst Richter's corpse, the universe seemingly intent on reaching out a helping hand for justice.
First came the storm of 17 December, blowing in at just past eight in the morning. It was a rare one, but not extraordinary, borne in on a cut-off low pressure cell: a blue-black, billowing monster that thundered in from the Atlantic Ocean just north of Robben Island.
The massed clouds shot spectacular white forked tongues down to sea and land, dragging a dense curtain of rain behind them. In under half an hour 71mm had deluged Blouberg Strand and Parklands, Killarney Gardens and Zeezicht.
There was flood damage and traffic chaos. The mainstream and social media would breathlessly repeat the big G-word: Global Warming.
But with regard to the body it revealed, the earth's contribution was more modest; simply the contours of the veld beyond Blouberg – where the southeaster had randomly moulded the dunes like a blind sculptor – channelling the flood. It eroded the sand away around Ernst Richter's feet: one bare and tragic, while from the other a black sock dangled, comically, at half-mast.
The last link in the causal chain was fate that made twenty-nine-year-old cameraman Craig Bannister stop nearby at 11.17, beside Otto du Plessis Drive: the coast road between Blouberg and Melkbosstrand. He got out of his vehicle and gauged the weather. The worst of the wind had died down; the clouds were breaking up. He wanted to test his new radio-controlled plane, the DJI Phantom 2 Vision Plus with its stabilised high-resolution video camera. The Phantom, a so-called 'quadcopter', was a technological miracle in miniature. It was equipped with GPS, and a Wi-Fi network that allowed Bannister to connect his iPhone to the camera. He could see the video on his phone screen mere milliseconds after the Phantom recorded it up there in the sky.
Just after 11.31 Bannister frowned at the strange image and manoeuvred the Phantom to fly lower and closer. He let it hover, just one metre above the anomaly, until he was certain.
Sand, black plastic and feet: it was quite clear.
He said nothing. He looked up from the iPhone to determine exactly where the Phantom was hovering, and began to walk swiftly in that direction. It felt as though the video image was a fiction, like a TV drama, in which he could not believe. He followed a winding route, between shrubs, up and down the dunes. Only when he crested the last rise did he see it first-hand. He walked closer, leaving a solitary line of footprints in the rain-smoothed sand.
The feet protruded from beneath the thick black plastic that the body had apparently been rolled up in. The rest was still buried under the sand.
'Shit,' said Craig Bannister, prophetically.
He reached for his phone, which was still clamped to the radio control. Then he realised the Phantom was still hovering a metre above ground, busy recording everything on video. He let the quadcopter land and switched everything off. Then he made the call.
At 13.14, in the Ocean Basket on Kloof Street, Detective Captain Benny Griessel's phone rang. He checked the screen, and saw that it was Major Mbali Kaleni calling: his new commander at the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigations –also known as the DPCI, or 'the Hawks' – Violent Crimes Group. A possible chance of escape. He answered promptly, with a faint feeling of hope.
'Benny, I'm sorry to interrupt your lunch ...'
'It's not a problem,' he said.
'I need you in Edgemead. Farmersfield Road. Vaughn is on his way too.'
'I'll be there in twenty minutes.'
'Please apologise to your family.' Because she knew about the 'special occasion' that his girlfriend Alexa Barnard had arranged.
He rang off. Alexa, Carla and the Van Eck boy had overheard the conversation. They were looking at him. His son Fritz still had his nose buried in his cellphone.
'Ai, Pappa,' said Carla, his daughter, with a mixture of understanding and disappointment.
Alexa took his hand, and squeezed it in sympathy.
'I'm sorry,' said Benny, and stood up. He felt the ache in his side and arm. Not as bad as it had been earlier that morning. 'I have to go to Edgemead.'
'Big murder?' asked the Van Eck boy. He was Carla's new 'friend', a Jesus lookalike with shoulder-length hair and sparse beard.
Griessel ignored him. He took out his wallet, then his credit card. He handed the card to Alexa. He was relieved when she nodded and took it. 'Just give me a kiss,'she said. 'My master detective.'
In the veld east of Otto du Plessis Drive they carefully unearthed the remains of Ernst Richter, as the wind marked the drama by blustering for a few minutes and then died down again, and the sun suddenly emerged from behind the clouds, at once warm and blindingly bright, reflecting off the undulating dunes and the still turbulent Atlantic Ocean.
The video unit of the SAPS made their recordings, while Forensics busied themselves carefully scooping up the sand around the body, and putting it in marked plastic bags.
Detective Adjutant Jamie Keyter of Table View was the man in charge. He had had the area within ten metres of the find cordoned off with crime-scene tape. He had ordered two uniforms to control the traffic on Otto du Plessis Drive, and keep the inquisitive away. With the suspicious, vaguely accusing tone he reserved for occasions such as this, he had interrogated Craig Bannister thoroughly.
'Why did you come and test your little aeroplane here, hey?'
'There's no law against it.'
'I know that. But why didn't you go to the place up there by the Vlei, where they fly the little aeroplanes?'
'That's for the radio control hobbyists.'
'Look, I just got this thing. I'm a professional DOP. This is a —'
'What is a DOP?'
'A Director of Photography. I work on TV and film productions. This is the latest technology in aerial camera platforms: a drone, with an HD camera. I need to practise with it, without dodging a hundred little aeroplanes.'
'Do you have a licence for it?'
'A licence? Nobody needs a licence for a little drone.'
'So you just stopped here?'
'Big coincidence.' Jamie Keyter at his ironic best.
'What are you saying?'
'I'm not saying anything. I'm asking.'
'Look, I drove until I found a spot with a nice view,' said Bannister with extreme patience. 'The road, the sea, the mountain – just take a look. That's pretty spectacular. I needed to practise flying the thing, but I wanted to test the camera too, on something worthwhile. Like this scenery.'
Jamie Keyter lifted his Ferrari sunglasses off his nose, to give Bannister the I-can-see-right-through-you look.
The man just stood there, waiting uneasily.
'So you have everything on video?' asked Keyter at last.
Together they watched the video on the cellphone. Twice. 'Okay,' Keyter said, and ordered Bannister to go and wait at his car. The adjutant replaced his Ferrari sunglasses on his nose. In a black polo golf shirt that displayed his bulging biceps and black Edgars chino trousers with black leather belt, hands on hips, he stared at the two feet protruding from under the black plastic.
He was pleased with himself. The feet, despite the post-mortem discolouration, were clearly those of a white man. That meant media attention.
Jamie Keyter loved media attention.
Benny Griessel, forty-six years old, rehabilitating alcoholic, six hundred and two days on the wagon, sat and stared through the windscreen of his car, stuck in the traffic jamming up Buitengracht.
Usually he hated December.
Usually he would curse this holidaymakers' madhouse with a muttered 'Jissis'. Especially the fokken Gautengers who raced down to Cape Town as fast as they could in their shiny new BMWs, their fat wallets ready to blow all their Christmas bonuses with that 'We're gonna shake the Cape awake' attitude; and the entire population of the Cape's northern suburbs who abandoned their regular inhibitions and streamed down to the beaches in droves. Along with the hordes of Europeans fleeing the winter cold.
Usually he would brood resentfully on the consequences of this invasion. There was no parking, the traffic stank, prices doubled and crime stats went up at least 12 per cent, because everyone drank like a fish, which unleashed all the wrong demons.
Usually. But not this year: the oppression was in him and over him and around him, like a disconsolate cloud. Again. Still.
The momentary relief of his escape from the Ocean Basket had evaporated. On the way to the car the melancholy in Mbali's voice had registered with him – the muted dismay, accentuated by her attempt to disguise it. In stark contrast to the positivity she had tried to radiate over the past two months as group commander.
I need you in Edgemead. Farmersfield Road. Vaughn is on his way too.
Something bad was brewing. And he didn't have the strength for disaster any more.
So today the December madness and the snail's pace traffic wasn't so much a thorn in his flesh, but a blessing.
The Forensic team had exposed the full length of Ernst Richter's corpse.
Adjutant Jamie Keyter called the video team closer so they could record it: the thick black plastic rolled around the body, just not long enough to cover the feet, and the blood red rope with which it had been so thoroughly bound – up near the head, around the waist and down at the ankles.
Keyter had seen the newspaper photographer trying to take photos from Otto du Plessis drive with his long lens. That was why he stood with legs apart, hands on hips: the image of a detective in control of his crime scene. He kept an eye on the video team, until he was satisfied that the recording covered all the suitable angles.
'Okay,' he said. 'You come out.' Then, to Forensics, with a wave of the hand, 'Cut him open.'
The two forensic analysts chose the right tools from their kit, lifted the crime tape and knelt beside the victim. One carefully cut the cord loose. The other picked up the cord and packed it in an evidence bag.
Jamie Keyter ducked under the tape himself now and walked up to the victim. 'Let's unroll him.'
It took nearly ten minutes, as they had to work carefully and the single sheet of plastic seemed endless. The forensics men folded up every two metres of the plastic to limit contamination.
The uniforms, the video unit, the two detective constables, ambulance men all stepped closer, curious.
Finally the body was revealed.
'He hasn't been here long,' said one forensic analyst, as there were relatively few signs of decay, just a general darkening of the skin, the blueish-purple network of livor mortis visible on the feet and the underside of the neck, and the sand grains that clung to the body from head to toe. A lean man of average height, with thick, dark brown hair, dressed in a black T-shirt – with the words I refuse to engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed person in big white letters – and blue jeans.
'Maybe a week or so,' said the other, and thought the face seemed vaguely familiar, but he couldn't place it at that moment. He suppressed the impulse to say something.
It was the closest anyone came to identifying Ernst Richter at the scene of the crime.
'He's been strangled with something,' said the other forensic analyst, and pointed at the deep discolouration that circled the throat.
'Obviously,' said Jamie Keyter.CHAPTER 2
Farmersfield Street had a quiet, middle-class sense of calm on this Wednesday afternoon, rows of white and cream three-bedroom developer's houses with tiled roofs and neat lawns. The morning's storm had left a trail of branches and leaves in the street.
Griessel didn't need to search for the address. He saw the neighbours standing across the road in small, dejected groups, and a huddle of police vehicles parked together. He stopped a few metres away, on the pavement. He remained sitting, hands on the steering wheel, his eyes downcast. Not keen to get out.
Something had happened to disturb the normality of suburban Edgemead; something that he knew would deepen the oppression he'd felt these past months. The minibus of PCSI, the elite Provincial Crime Scene Investigation unit, was also there. What were they doing here? And why had he and Vaughn of the Hawks been called in?
He took a deep breath, and slowly let go of the steering wheel. He got out reluctantly. Walked towards the house.
A white wall obscured his view, so that he first had to walk around to the driveway, where a constable was controlling access.
The house looked like most of the others in the street. More SAPS personnel in uniform stood at the door in a circle, heads down.
The constable stopped him with a forbidding palm. He showed his identity card.
The eyes widened suddenly: 'Oh, Captain Griessel. Captain Cupido asked that you just wait here. I will call him quickly ...'
'What for?' asked Benny, and walked around the man.
'No, Captain, please.' Anxious. 'He gave me orders. I have to call him.'
'Get him then.' Annoyed – he wasn't in the mood for Vaughn's tricks.
In a loud voice the constable asked the uniforms at the door to call the 'Hawks Captain'. One of them hurried inside.
Griessel waited, impatient.
Cupido came hurrying out in his Hawk-in-Protest outfit – jeans, yellow T-shirt, blue jacket, and the shrill statement of his yellow-and-orange running shoes, that he had praised so enthusiastically to Benny yesterday: 'Nike Air Pegasus Plus, pappie, almost a thousand bucks regular price, but Tekkie Town had a sale. Cool comfort in Technicolor; it's like walking on air in a wet dream. Takes the "work" out of "footwork" every time. But the real bonus is that these sneakers are going to piss off Major Mbali big time.'
For the past couple of weeks Vaughn had been protesting against the strict new edict on neatness laid down by Major Mbali (sarcastically accentuating the new rank every time). The previous Monday during a group meeting Kaleni had said solemnly, 'If you want to be professional, you have to look professional. We have a responsibility to the public.' And then she had asked them to wear suit and tie and 'formal shoes' – or at least a shirt with a collar and a jacket. That had been the last straw for Cupido who was already having trouble stomaching her appointment as group leader: 'You think it's a coincidence, just after the election? I don't think so. Because she's a Zulu, it's ethnic affirmative action; it's Zuma time, all the time, Benna. You and I have more experience, more years of service, more savvy. And she gets the promotion?' Griessel knew the real problem was that Cupido was deeply concerned that the new commander would not put up with his nonsense. Mbali was conscientious and conservative. Vaughn was not. So he said she was the right person for the post, given the circumstances.
It had made no difference.
Despite his haste and the colourful outfit, Cupido's face was sombre as he approached.
'Benna, you don't need to go inside. Our work here is done.' Griessel could hear the tone in his colleague's voice, the false business-like note hiding his dismay.
'I didn't drive all this way to ... What's going on, Vaughn? What happened here?' 'Trust me, Benna, please. It's an open-and-shut. Let's go.' Cupido put his hand protectively on Griessel's shoulder.
Benny felt his temper rising. What was wrong with Cupido? He shrugged him off his shoulder. 'Are you going to tell me what's going on, or must I see for myself?'
'Benna, for once in your life, trust me,' with a desperation that merely inflamed Benny's suspicions.
'Jissis,' said Griessel and began walking towards the front door.
'It's Vollie,' said Cupido.
Griessel froze. 'Vollie?'
'Ja. Our Vollie. Vollie Fish. And his family.'
Adjutant Tertius van Vollenhoven, who had worked with both of them before, back when the Provincial Detective Branch still existed. Vollie, who dished up his West Coast sayings sparely and dryly in his Namaqualand accent when the night was too long and morale too low. Vollie Fish, native of Lamberts Bay, who went home on weekends and brought back seafood for the whole team on Mondays, with precise instructions on the cooking, because 'to fuck up the preparation of a crayfish, that's sacrilege, my friend.'(Continues…)
Excerpted from "ICARUS"
Copyright © 2015 Deon Meyer.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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I have read all seven novels , and have enjoyed them all. Please read "Thirteen Hours", first, my favorite