Set in a contemporary South Africa rife with internal political infighting, Colonel De Vries is a white detective heading up a squad of the South African Police Service (SAPPS), which has reverted back to its military stylings of the apartheid era. Predictably, his marriage is broken and he drinks too much, whereas his trusty sidekick, Don February, is black and has another life at home with his loving wife.
The bodies of two white boys turn up in a rubbish skip and the hunt is on for their killers. De Vries has been here before with the unsolved case of three missing children seven years earlier, which has haunted him ever since.
The perfect description of the South African setting gives The First Rule of Survival a unique dynamic. Despite the usual conflict with the top echelons such as Du Toit, the historical context lends this crime novel extra weight. The early introduction of the mysterious, Marantz, shows promise but the later relationship that develops between Marantz and De Vries is rather contrived, with some clunky dialogue which takes away from the otherwise flawless prose.
The flash backs to 2007 help build characters and tension but at times the momentum stalls with some extensive over-writing which would benefit from an editor’s heavy hand.
In the words of the author, ‘the first rule of survival? Stay alive.’ Despite its few faults, this one promises to have a long shelf life.