The First Rule of Survival is a debut novel and an excellent one.
The main character, Colonel Vaughn de Vries (pronounced DeFrees) is a detective who works in his own unorthodox way, struggling in a mire of departmental and racial rivalry. He is a drunk who frustrates and upsets his superiors. But De Vries is dogged, intuitive, and obsessed with a particular case; one which he failed to resolve. Seven years before the story begins three white, ‘middle class’ young boys were kidnapped over three days. Never to be heard of again.
The book is set in and around Cape Town, which is described beautifully. Mendelson gives us a good sense of place as well as the atmosphere of current inter-racial tension, between blacks, whites and coloureds and the politics that go hand in hand with this. De Vries is white and of the old school; he has an able black assistant to whom he gets on with, but doesn't always trust.
The story begins with the discovery of the bodies of two white boys in a rubbish dumpster. These are two of the boys who were abducted seven years before. This time De Vries is determined to find the third boy and close the case, no matter what the cost.
Without giving anything away, the plot is unusual and it is refreshing to see something different for a change. The pace gives a flavour of the South African life style. Characterisation is superb and I believed in each of the characters, except one, John Marantz. I suspect the reason for this is that there is to be a sequel or series, I do hope so.
Nb The South African Police, SAPS, reverted to military ranks in 2010.