Dead at Daybreak

Dead at daybreak
Dead at Daybreak.jpg
AuthorDeon Meyer
Original titleOrion
TranslatorMadeleine van Biljon
CountrySouth Africa
GenreCrime/Thriller fiction
Set inSouth Africa
PublisherHodder & Stoughton
Publication date
1998 (2000 in English)
Preceded byDead Before Dying 
Followed byHeart of the Hunter 

Dead at Daybreak[1] is the second crime novel written by South African thriller novelist, Deon Meyer. Its Afrikaans title is Orion, and it has been translated into English by Madeleine van Biljon.

In this bestselling thriller,[2] the author brings together history, that of the apartheid system,[3] and politics, that of South Africa in Angola.

This book won a coveted international prize, the France’s Prix Mystère de la critique.[4] It has also been the basis of Orion, a series for television.[5]

Plot summary[edit]

Zatopek 'Zet' van Heerden, an Afrikaner former cop, is private detective. He is appointed by the lawyer Hope Beneke to find in less than 7 days a testament bequeathing to the widow Wilna van As the fortune of her husband, Johannes Jacobus Smit. This rich antiquarian was tortured at their home and murdered after the opening of his safe-deposit box and the stealing of its content. van Heerden discovers that "J. J. Smit" was not the person whose papers he carried, and that someone wants to hide his true identity.[6]

The plot alternates between the chapters written in the third person and describing the step-by-step investigations, and those written in the first person and detailing the history of the personal life of Zet van Heerden.[6] This character is like a vindicator showing us that no one holds a single truth, and that coexistence with former enemies is difficult.[7]

In parallel, the reader discovers the life of Thobela Mpayipheli, a member of Umkhonto we Sizwe — the armed wing of African National Congress — sent to the former Soviet Union and East Germany to be trained as an assassin.[8]


In a dialogue with Hope (Beneke), a sentence summarizes how between Zet (van Heerden), the main character, oscillates between positive and negative feelings.

'My mother is an artist. That's her work.' He pointed to the wall. 'She creates beautiful paintings. She looks at the world and she makes it more beautiful on canvas. I think it's her way of distancing herself from the evil that is in all of us.' (Day 4 — Sunday, 9 July).[1]


  1. ^ a b Meyer, Deon (2000). Dead at Daybreak. London, UK: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 978-0-340-73943-3.
  2. ^ "Deon Meyer: 'Do I have a next book in me?'". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2020-01-15.
  3. ^ Reyes Torres, Agustín (2011). "Investigating the New South Africa: An Interview with Deon Meyer on Dead Before Dying" (PDF). Anglistica. 15 (1): 79–89.
  4. ^ De Waal, Mandy (2 March 2012). "Murder she wrote: Margie Orford, SA's crime fiction queen". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 15 January 2020.
  5. ^ "The Wait is Over for Deon Meyer's "Best Book Yet": Cobra". Sunday Times Books Live. 14 July 2014. Retrieved 15 January 2020.
  6. ^ a b Dixon, Isobel (2005-01-08). "Dead at Daybreak". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  7. ^ Jean, Sevry (2007-05-01). Littératures d'Afrique du Sud (in French). Karthala Editions. ISBN 978-2-8111-4136-3.
  8. ^ Phillips, Bill (2014-03-26). "South african crime fiction: an illuminating window on the rainbow nation". In Mendes, Ana Cristina; Baptista, Cristina (eds.). Reviewing Imperial Conflicts. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. pp. 60–70. ISBN 978-1-4438-5879-3.

External links[edit]