Meyer's second work of fiction, Dead at Daybreak, is set in South Africa, as was his impressive first novel, Heart of the Hunter, once more proving that greed and murder are universal, humanity equally flawed anywhere in the world. Zet van Heerden is disenchanted with life since his partner's death, having quit the force, spending his days in alcoholic oblivion. His old cronies in the department think it is Nagel's death at the hands of a serial killer that has pushed van Heerden over the edge, but it is more than that, an unbearable guilt that the disillusioned detective carries in his heart.
When van Heerden, now a private investigator, receives a call from attorney Hope Beneke, he begrudgingly accepts an assignment to recover a handwritten will, stolen from Johannes Smit, an antiques dealer who was tortured with a blowtorch before being shot, execution-style, in the back of the head. Smit's specially built safe is empty, but nothing else in the house has been touched. The antique dealer's live-in partner, Wilna van As, has only seven days to find the will and claim the estate. Zet's job is made more difficult by the time restriction, his frustration mounting with each dead end. But when he discovers there is no paper trail for Smit prior to starting his business, the PI turns his attentions to Smit's activities pre-1983, opening a Pandora's box of killers, intelligence agents, mercenaries and assorted desperadoes, all of whom will do anything to keep certain information quiet, threatening van Heerden's life and those around him. Suddenly, Zet is pursued by faceless assassins and determined intelligence officers in an accelerating cat-and-mouse game that quickly degenerates into violence.
The chapters counting backward from day seven, the prose moves back and forth between present and past, the investigation of Smit's murder reopening old wounds, bringing to the surface what the protagonist so desperately wants to suppress. Within the plot of Dead at Daybreak, Meyer creates a parallel universe, the police procedural translated into a struggle to contain the despair that has crippled van Heerden's spirit. Forced to look into his darkest motivations, Zet sees only the evil, unforgiving and without compassion for himself, his concentrated self-denial usurps his waking life, poisoning the present and the future; only the jailer can unlock the cell. Ironically, van Heerden's mother and Hope Beneke have the patience that may foster his resurfacing, as both women allow him the freedom to escape from a moral quagmire of his own making.
Constructing a picture of a man in conflict, Meyer ties art to life in a subtle marriage of music, passion and imagination, giving a sense of purpose to suffering: "I didn't realize how finally, how dramatically the morning of my life would spill me over the edge like so much flotsam". In this fascinating drama, personal morality overlaps professionalism in a moral quagmire, the characters sharply drawn with complicated motives. Even Tiny Mpayipheli, the hero of Heart of the Hunter, makes an appearance, lending his critical support to van Heerden on the final bloody leg of their journey. Insightful and psychologically taut, this South African thriller is compelling, a thoughtful examination of denial and personal responsibility and the acceptance of human limitations. Once again, Meyers displays his impressive skills as an observer of human nature, with all its misplaced passions and yearning for compatibility with the interior landscape of the heart. Luan Gaines/2005.