DEON MEYER - Getting all FEVERish

Written by Ali Karim

I enjoyed an interesting and hot afternoon in London talking with one of South Africa’s most entertaining crime-writers Deon Meyer, made special due to the recent publication of the post-apocalyptic thriller FEVER

Deon had just come to Europe from South Africa, where KOORS, the original name for FEVER in the Afrikaans had been sitting at the top of the country’s book charts, above Paula Hawkins and even Wilbur Smith. 

Though best-known for the bestselling Benny Griessel thrillers, his new thriller FEVER is a change of direction, but firmly a crime thriller is at its core.

Reviewed at Shots – we wrote 

The new novel from award-wining South African crime writer Deon Meyer is a stark departure from his bestselling Benny Griessel thrillers; though FEVER at its core remains firmly a crime novel. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, it explores the relationship of a teenage boy Nico and his Father Willem Storm when faced with a dangerous new world. 

Structurally this hypnotic and hefty thriller is interesting, as well as strangely comforting as it is a coming-of-age tale, as well as a philosophical lament on humanity and its problematical relationships between peoples, as well as our environment. Though an extremely thrilling adventure story and one that can be read as just that (a fast moving thriller); Meyer’s post-apocalyptic tale’s real virtue is its ability to provoke deep thought in the reader as it reflects upon human nature, and our place on Earth (conscious beings with a feral side to our existence). There is little doubt that the dark side of our nature is an essential evolutionary tool, but when faced with times of fear and scarcity, it also becomes something more.

Read More HERE

Post-Apocalyptic Fiction is an interest I share with Deon Meyer, so it was thanks to Kerry Hood of Hodder and Stoughton that I found myself seated with Deon just off Piccadilly Circus in an air-conditioned bar, talking about the end of the world.  

We both discovered the pleasures and insight of Post-Apocalyptic fiction in our youth, and interestingly it was George R. Stewarts’ Earth Abides that struck a chord in both of us. In my case, it was a book I read when I was thirteen [or so], after discovering a tatty copy in a second-hand bookstall. Though my Father confiscated it due to the somewhat risqué cover from Corgi [which depicted a naked male in the context of Adam from the Garden of Eden].I managed to retrieve it, finding it hidden under my Father’s bed. This amused Deon, as it mirrors the theme of father and son, in FEVER which despite its Post-Apocalyptic set-up is a ‘coming of age’ tale, and relates to the fractious relationship between teenage sons and their fathers, but is something far, far more intriguing.  

Deon highlighted his favourite Post-Apocalyptic works HERE and when we compared notes naturally Stephen King’s The Stand as well as Robert McCammon’s Swansong and Richard Matheson’s I am Legend came up.  We were also both readers of John Christopher [though he was actually Sam Youd and deployed an array of pennames over the years of which the John Christopher is the one he was most associated with]. From the pen of Christopher would come many science fiction novels that featured apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction. It was his 1956 novel The Death of Grass that allowed him to write full-time [filmed as No Blade of Grass] which he wrote while working in South Africa.

We had both read work such as Neville Shute’s On the BeachA Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr., John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids, PD James’ Children of Men, and then we discussed the films that evoke that Mad Max world, as well as the myriad disaster movies of this sub-genre.

Deon was curious about some of the lesser known work, of which the chilling Mordecai Roshwald novel Level 7 remains one of my favorites for its deadpan depiction of the insanity of the Cold War’s Mutually Assured Destruction is truly scary. I also mentioned my love of Harlan Ellison’s novella A Boy and his Dog which was filmed in 1975 with a youthful Don Johnson; as well as Roger Zelazny’s Damnation Alley a pre-curser to the Mad Max films from George Miller.

I asked Deon if he was nervous if people compared FEVER with Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD, as that also deployed the father and son post-apocalyptic motif. He had no concerns with people comparing his work with McCarthy’s THE ROAD, which he deeply admired, but said that FEVER and THE ROAD are very different novels, both in terms of theme and execution. In FEVER, the son is much older and is emerging from his teenage years into adulthood with all the angst of a teenager robbed of his childhood; while in THE ROAD, the boy is much younger – and from there, the story arcs diverge considerably.

Deon talked about the juxtaposition of the father and son relationship in the book, where Willem’s teenage son Nico soon becomes the protector of his father; making the ‘rites of passage’ - a journey through a frightening reality.

I was also intrigued by Deon’s relationship with his own father.  It seems that Deon’s father’s education was limited, having left school at 14, as he had to earn a living [though he would return to learning and books later in life]. Deon recalls his father talking about his reading when he was growing up; akin to Willem talking to Nico about books and life. In fact, Deon indicated that the writing process for FEVER had been most enlightening to him personally, as he thought about his own father as he typed away.

Deon came up with the idea for FEVER just under a decade ago, writing the opening four chapters in a fever [pardon the pun]. Although his literary agent Isobel Dixon of Blake Friedman Associates was enthusiastic, but asked Deon to park it up for a little while as his readers clamored for more of his bestselling Benny Griessel thrillers. 

 One of the sparks that ignited an interest to write my own Post-Apocalyptic thriller was reading The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, a non-fiction work that provoked much thought. I was also thinking about the society in South Africa, as well as the wider world; the unequal society we find ourselves in where the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ is becoming more pronounced. I pondered if humanity were re-set, and started from scratch, what would it be like? How could we re-start humanity and society to ensure we didn’t end up in the same situation we find ourselves in currently?’

When Deon sat down to write this standalone [a stylistic departure too boot], he had the opening, and the climax firmly rooted in his mind but he would have to traverse the narrative core and explore, following where his imagination was headed, which he rationalised as -

“Writing a novel is a journey into the unknown. And the discoveries you make during the journey – about your world and about yourself – shape and change not only the story, but also the author. The reason why I am so proud of FEVER, and why the book is special to me, is how it changed me, and my writing. And how it made me feel about humanity.”

Deon explained that the writing process for FEVER was one of the most enjoyable he has experienced as a commercial writer; for the narrative was a joy to work on.

I was intrigued about the research behind FEVER, especially related to Genetically Modified GM seeds, the issue of storage and degradation of Petroleum Fuels, because as a former Industrial Chemist who worked in refining of crude oil / gases; I knew that the reserves of Motor Spirit [Gasoline] and aviation fuels such Avgas 100 LL [used In turbo propeller aircraft] as well as Jet A1 / Kerosene [used In Jets] would eventually degrade and after a while [depending on storage conditions] become unusable. The reason being the loss of what we term the ‘light ends’, up to 30-40 chain Carbon-Carbon covalent bonds, which are most volatile and would evaporate away, leaving the’ heavy ends’ behind in higher concentrations, thus making the fuel problematical to burn in the combustion engine. The other issue is that of the finite nature of the fuels left behind; for these fuels for use in engines could not be produced in the post-apocalyptic world for most of the refineries would be either ruined or inoperable. The only solution for a liquid fuel would be the use of Diesel or Gas-Oil - for this fuel is heavier so not so prone to loss of the ‘light-ends’ in storage [by evaporation], and it can be also be produced as Bio-diesel, from Rape Seed and other seed crops so is sustainable. 

The issue would be getting ones’ hands upon natural seeds for cultivation, as GM seeds would be useless as they are sterile and do not produce seeds after flowering, and secondly if one were to track down a supply of non-GM seeds, then an aircraft would be the best way to traverse a rural South Africa to find the seed banks, as well as bring them back for cultivation, safely. Hennie Fly’s Cessna [like most turbo-propeller aircraft] runs on Jet A1 or Avgas 100LL [which has a significant proportion of the volatile ‘light ends’ from petroleum refining]. 

The answer Deon came up with was thanks to a colleague who told him about rare Diesel Turbo-Propeller Cessna aircraft, and that a handful operated in South Africa, and so he had a solution to the problem. His band of survivors would have to gain access to a Diesel Powered plane in order to traverse large distances to seek out GM-Free Seeds, as well as then harvesting a crop that could be made into biodiesel as well as Ethanol  to power other engines that require lighter fuel than diesel; and so becomes the exciting ‘great diesel raid’. 

Deon Meyer smiled that the technical detail about petroleum fuels, and aviation was correct in his narrative.

Deon also told me he had a lot of fun mapping out the Post-Apocalyptic South African landscape, using real locations, roads, resources and how they could be deployed to re-start a civilisation of sorts of which much of this is detailed HERE.

I told Deon how much I enjoyed FEVER, with the short chapters, non-linear timelines and a narrative that was as different to his previous work as it was enlightening. It is the vignettes scattered throughout FEVER that make you pause, make you reflect and ponder what it is about us that makes us human, as well as the thinness of the line that separates us from all that is feral, wild and dangerous – both within humanity as well as outside – the inhumanity of our situation. The story of a survivor, who used to own an ‘all you can eat buffet’ before the fever came, and why he closed it down becomes the novel in microcosm. Deon smiled and told me that the story of the guy who shut down his ‘all you can eat buffet’ [before the virus hits] despite the success of the restaurant - was based on a true story, that he heard at a dinner party. He heard that the reason the gentleman shutdown his highly successful buffet restaurant was that he grew sickened by the greed and waste each evening, as patrons over-filled their plates; but a significant proportion of the food they took to their tables was wasted, and each night the owner wept as he saw the bins filled of wasted food – while all around in neighbouring villages there was poverty and starving children.

I mentioned to Deon, that occasionally I get a remark from non-reader acquaintances, who say to me ‘I don’t read novels, as it’s all made up. I like to read about real things, about facts, not fiction’. I told Deon that when anyone says that to me, I just smile, and nod and return my attention to my book, because I know the reality of the situation is far different. Experience has indicated to me that Fact and Fiction are inter-related. Not all facts are truthful, and not all fiction is made up. The best narratives in fiction are often ones that have facts striated through the story.

I recounted a favorite crime-thriller of mine, one that is also coincidentally from Deon’s publishers Hodder and Stoughton – John Connolly’s 2009 ‘The Lovers’. There is a scene that still haunts me years today. 

The set-up to this terrifying scene – 

The police are called to a disturbance at party in a high-rise block in Manhattan in winter. There is noise, there is drink, drugs, but in the centre is a screaming, hysterical woman, flaying her arms in tune to her wails as she is clutches a dead infant to her chest.

It appears that the woman who hosted the party [with her partner] put her infant to sleep in her double-bed. As the guests arrived, they threw their heavy winter-coats on the double-bed, not seeing the sleeping infant under the blankets. The child’s suffocated body is eventually discovered by the Mother, and so the Police are called.

I asked John Connolly about that scene; that is haunting and tragic in an interview when he celebrated his first decade as a published author [from Jeff Peirce’s The Rap Sheet in 2009]

Ali Karim : You always fill your novels with vignettes and insights, many of which are surreal. Not to give too much away, but the one from The Lovers that really burned into my mind was the death of the infant at that party with the coats.

John Connolly : That’s based on an actual incident, one that had always stayed with Peter English, the ex-NYPD guy who helped me a lot with the research for the book. I spent a lot of time talking with him, and listening, and making notes. When he told me that story, I felt that it could be incorporated into the novel, as I could see how it might have affected Parker’s father. 
Graham Greene said that a writer needs to have a little shard of ice in his heart, and it was in my willingness to use that story that I recognized the essential truth of Greene’s statement as it applied to my own work: to hear something as terrible as that and think, well, I can use it ... 

Deon sat in silence at this aside, realising that in FEVER his imagined tale, had facts such as the degradation of petroleum fuels striated into the narrative, that too were correct. Though the anecdote from John Connolly sat heavily upon our minds.

At that point, breaking the silence, Kerry Hood indicated that we had better finish our drinks pointing to her watch as the launch party was imminent at Hatchards in Piccadilly.

It was a hot summers evening, and I remarked to Deon that he’d brought the South African weather with him to London as we walked across the road.

Kerry Hood and Rosie Stephen of Hodder and Stoughton with Publisher Nick Sayers had organised an excellent venue with an eclectic array of guests. Naturally Poet and Literary Agent Isobel Dixon and her colleagues from Blake Friedmann were present. From Shots came Mike Stotter and Ayo Onatade, from The Express came Jon Coates, from The Times came Marcel Berlins, fellow  Journalist and broadcaster Mike Carlson, and many others including former Police Superintendent turned writer Graham Bartlett. There were a number of fellow South Africans such as the charming book reviewer Rony Campbell, as well as booksellers, and friends of Deon Meyer.

Soon it was time to listen to publisher Nick Sayers introduce Deon Meyer as Hodder and Stoughton launched FEVER in Great Britain and Ireland on a hot London evening...

So after some mingling with colleagues, sampling the South African wines, and chatting about Deon’s remarkable novel FEVER, it was time to depart into the warmth of the London evening, which was as warm as South Africa.

Shots present photos from the evening, as well as ones from Deon’s previous visits to Crimefest and Theakstons Harrogate in the UK as well as Bouchercon St Louis, MO in America. 

Shots would like to thank Kerry Hood, Rosie Stephens and Nick Sayers of Hodder and Stoughton for organising this interesting meeting to discuss post-apocalyptic fiction and of course Hatchards London for their hospitality hosting the Launch of FEVER by Deon Meyer.

And Shots Magazine have discounted copies of FEVER available HERE

And it’s highly recommended



Deon Meyer

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