South African author Meyer combines a whodunit with a chillingly plausible end-of-the-world scenario in Fever (Atlantic Monthly, Sept.).
What interested you about writing a postapocalyptic novel, and what did adding a murder mystery element enable you to do what you couldn’t have done otherwise?
As a crime and thriller author, I’m pretty used to contributing to a very crowded genre, so the comparatively few postapocalyptic novels out there seemed more of an opportunity than a threat. I believed my story was unique and absorbing enough to bring something new and exciting to this field. From page one, the reader knows that the father of the narrator is going to be killed. I was hoping that this structure would add two things to the novel—suspense (who did it, and why), and much greater importance to the relationship between father and son.
What themes, if any, does Fever share with your other crime fiction?
Crime and postapocalyptic fiction are both about restoring order. Murder brings a society closer to chaos, and by solving the case and ensuring justice, the detective reimposes one of the most essential conditions of a stable society—law and order. In most postapocalyptic fiction, the society is probably in total chaos, and the protagonists are in a life-and-death battle to reestablish order, a cornerstone of their survival.
You’ve written that you like doing hands-on research for your books; how did you go about making your imagined future as plausible as possible?
I approached really smart people for advice, and received much more than I deserved. For instance, I asked Wolfgang Preiser, the head of the division of medical virology in the department of pathology at the University of Stellenbosch to design a virus for Fever. I consulted champion aerobatics pilot Cliff Lotter about the Cessna in the novel, and even flew with him. I also had long chats with one of South Africa’s most famous ecologists, Dave Pepler, and the country’s expert on hydro-electricity, Anton-Louis Olivier.
Did creating your own vision of the future give you more freedom to innovate?
I had the pressure of a responsibility to my agents, publishers, and readers to do a good job, considering the fact that I expected them to trust me with something a little different. But it certainly was the most enjoyable creative process of my career. Being free from the conventions, traditions, and specific structural demands of crime fiction was very liberating, and allowed me to take a few risks. I also have a sneaking suspicion that my crime fiction—I’m writing a new Benny Griessel mystery at the moment—will benefit from lessons learned in the wild.