I've been a Deon Meyer fan since reading last year's Heart of the Hunter, a harrowing tale of a motorcycle chase through Southern Africa. Now the Cape Town crime writer returns with Dead Before Dying, a gripping police procedural centered on a serial murder case in which the common denominator is that there is no common denominator. The case falls to Capt. Mat Joubert, a career policeman on a slow downward spiral. Two years back, his wife, an undercover cop, was killed in a botched sting, and Joubert has been unable to get back to solid ground. His friends on the force, diminishing in number as his malaise wears on, treat him with kid gloves. This will be the make or break case of Joubert's career. The victims have been selected seemingly from all walks of life a coarse and well-loathed land developer; a free-and-easy office girl; a philandering businessman; a gay jewelry designer. Only the mode of their dispatch bonds them: one shot to the head, one to the heart with antique bullets from a turn-of-the-century German Mauser. Joubert will have his hands full sorting among valid clues and a string of red herrings, and the villain of the piece is a major surprise. Dead Before Dying is a plot-driven page-turner, but clear attention has been paid to character development, motivations and dialogue as well. Joubert is a haunted yet sympathetic protagonist; his character fairly begs for a sequel.

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