A man contacts an old friend asking for his assistance; with that one action, a government agency is set in motion, tracking all activity, assessing security and setting safeguards in place, so finely tuned as to be error-proof. In one simple act of acquiescence, lives are irrevocably changed.
A society is defined by the agencies that conduct the business of the people. Developed by the South African Presidential Intelligence Unit (PIU), designed from an intelligence-specific prototype, the Reaction Unit (RU) falls somewhere between a counter-terrorist organization and hostage rescue unit, similar to the British Special Air Services. The creators of the RU have dark dreams of redemption from a shameful past in South African human relations and, given an opportunity to prove the superiority of the unit, envision new beginnings for a country struggling to redefine its political and social systems.
Thobela Mpayipheli, a six-foot-three giant of a man with a gentle heart, has finally found contentment in his life, living quietly with his woman and her young son. A former member of Umkhonto we Sizwe ("the spear of the nation"), part of the black resistance when South Africa was fighting for racial balance and equality. Thobela, AKA Tiny, has made a covenant with himself and those he loves, putting the violence forever behind him. But when an old friend from the past makes a request, it is a call to honor that must be met. Thobela must act as his conscience dictates, aware of what is at stake when he allows his natural instincts to resurface. Tiny is the unknown quantity in the equation, the one man to test the raison d'etre of the RU.
Like all bureaucracies, once set in motion with agendas activated, everything proceeds as planned, inexorable. Regardless of nuance or human complications, these pseudo-machines are incapable of subtlety, or changing plans to adapt to exigent circumstances. Whatever and whoever is in the way is simply collateral damage.
"Contact. Action. Control." Protect the State at all costs. The action man of the Reaction Unit is Tiger Mazibuko, who lives for the thrill of the chase and a worthy opponent. He's been training his team relentlessly, preparing for just such an opportunity. Mpayipheli is the perfect adversary, a man who challenges all the skills Tiger has honed. As long as Tiger's supervisor, Janina Mentz, dehumanizes Mpayipheli, Tiger can behave dispassionately, impossible to stop. Meanwhile, Mentz sits in the catbird seat, answerable only to her Director, watching the machinations as the RU goes into overdrive, tracking Mpaypheli. This is a high-stakes chess game, and it is deadly serious.
The contretemps between man and "machine" balances in fragile stasis before chaos erupts and the forces collide, uncontrollable. Special interests, driven by self-preservation and pride, are motivated by the arrogance bred of power, corrupted, a somnolent decay that destroys the integrity of the agency itself. Meanwhile Mpaypheli's only desire is to fulfill his mission and return home, but circumstances conspire to isolate him, returning him to that state of existence he inhabited when he was a killing machine.
Meyer's complex characterizations are excellent, introspective and compassionate, revealing the underlying humanity that is at war with rigorous indoctrination. These people are multi-faceted, troubled, dealing with the demands of duty vs. personal integrity. Meyer uncovers the layers that form the whole of the human heart and the violence that destroys innocence, fomenting intolerance and distrust. Luan Gaines/2004.