Country: South Africa
Pages: 272/1091 kb
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"When last did it rain?" Zondi asked the man. The Zulu laughed.
"Can a dry old woman remembers her wedding night?"
These fucking people, Zondi thought, Everyone a poet.
The Washington Post said about Roger Smith that he "writes with the brutal beauty of an Elmore Leonard in a very bad mood." Ultimately, this would be a correct statement. In the reality of things, while Smith shares the pulp legend's knack for dialog and eye for character, it would be selling him short to call him an angry clone. DUST DEVILS is a novel with a strong individuality. It's a bleak but thorough outlook on South African society. Most important, it's a political novel. I know this might turn off a few of you, but please don't let one word scare you off. While injustice, ignorance and horror is exposed like an open wound in DUST DEVILS, there is a heartbreaking honesty to it. Roger Smith understands very well the potential of fiction as a vehicle for education. His novel is fast, exhilarating and dangerous, like racing humvees through the South African landscape.
Part of the fun in DUST DEVILS is how Roger Smith layered his story. There are a lot of variables and it doesn't matter how scattered you think they are, Smith keeps them wrapped up in one neat package. First, there's Robert Dell. A journalist who saw his family being murdered before his very eyes and who's being framed for it. His father, an ex-CIA hitman and a haunting figure in Dell's life saves his son the inferno of South African prison and offers his son a chance to avenge his blood. There are multiple points of view here, Dell and his father Earl. Inja Mazibuko, a Zulu warlord with Godlike powers over his territory. Disaster Zondi, a Zulu that adapted to contemporary South African urban life and Sunday, a young Zulu girl about to be married to the warlord. All these people are linked through the death of Dell's family and they are set on collision course.
There are two angles to a memorable novel. Great writing and great storytelling. While Roger Smith is no slouch in the writing department, where he really gets ahead of the pack is with his amazing storytelling skills. There is a scope to DUST DEVILS' storyline, which is gradually revealed. While Dell just drew the short straw, he finds himself way over his head into a murder story that's everything but a straightforward home invasion. That's where the novel gets political. Smith exposes the clash in between the Zulu society and the rest of Africa. The monster created by racism, ignorance and lack of communication is portrayed by Inja Mazibuko, one of the most efficient bad guys I've read this year. It's more than a simple murder story. Well, it starts as a murder story but it becomes way more than that because in South Africa, straightforward is not the way to do things.
Goodbread, wearing faded brown fatigues, crouched beside him. At fifty he was tanned and muscular, good looking in a craggy Clint Eastwood way. White teeth exposed in a fuck you grin.
While the cast of DUST DEVILS is a memorable one, my favorite character was perhaps the most difficult fit in the lot, Disaster Zondi. In fact, Roger Smith pulled a bit of an Ivan Karamazov with him. He kept Zondi on the sideline for about half the storyline and as things became more heated, he stepped to the frontline, started taking risks, exposing the gap that separates him from his origins and the principles that were born from it. He's very complex and his motivations aren't obvious. He wants to do what's right, but he's animated by very human feelings of self-preservation and by his conflicted nature. His inner struggle I thought was the hidden gem in DUST DEVILS. How Roger Smith gradually inserted him into the center of the storyline also. He's the link in between the two torn halves of South Africa.
Did I talk about the ending? Of course not. It's a reviewer's faux pas. Let's just say this. It's the type of ending that often ruins a story. In fact, it probably ruins a thousand novels. But the way Smith pulls it off, it works. It's a perfect fit. It solidifies DUST DEVILS as noir. I would go as far as saying it's the a credit to the genre. It's noir with ambition. It's a genre that is often associated with pulp and stories of bad guys in trench coat shooting each other, but this is different. This is noir with a purpose. It's a trip to the heart of darkness, a concept brought up by Joseph Conrad in the 19th century and still exploited as of today. It's the dark side of the human condition, where men aren't bound by law and ethics. Count me as a Roger Smith fan from now on. The man writes with vigor and blood.