She tried to talk herself into a calm space: there are just men, no matter what they do to you. But her heart raced like a crazy thing, hammering at her breastbone, and she felt her muscles and her limbs expand with half-remembered and unwanted strength. And her fear turned into terror as something stirred and twitched low in her gut.
Max Wilde is a pen name for South African author Roger Smith. I have established an odd, yet efficient relationships with Smith's books already. I pick them up from the TBR for no reason whatsoever, except that it's Smith's turn and he patiently waited for it and end up passing out on my living room couch at 3 A.M with his book on my chest, not because I'm exhausted, but because I forgot to feed while reading. I was already afraid of South Africa before being familiar with his work, but his Cape Town thrillers gave me both a pathological fear and fascination with this city. I didn't know anything going into VILE BLOOD, except that it's his first foray into horror and that's why he used a pen name. Diving into the unknown is part of what I call "The Roger Smith Experience."
Unlike the three first books of his I had the pleasure to read, VILE BLOOD isn't set in South Africa. While I don't think the location is once named, think of it as the middle of Nowhere, U.S.A *. Skye Martindale is the sister of local lawman Gene Martindale. She happens to be quiet and introverted, because she lives with a demon inside of her, literally. When Skye is exposed to extreme stress "The Other" takes over her body and leaves nothing by carnage behind. One night, hoodlums follow Skye on her way back home, thinking she'll be an easy prey. That was the last thing to go through their head before "The Other"'s fangs. While this should have been an empowering display of what "The Other" could do, it turned out that this outburst endangered the quiet balance of things around her and endangered the few people she loves.
Think of VILE BLOOD as EVIL DEAD meets THE DEVIL'S REJECTS. This sounds irreconcilable for a premise and for a few chapter, it seems to be. There are many characters introduced quickly and that makes it hard to 1) keep up with what's going on and 2) get interested in some characters, especially those introduced later. I struggled with caring about Junior Cotton. But one thing I learn reading Roger Smith is that you need to trust him. However much time he takes to place his pieces on the chess board, he never loses sight of the ending line. One of the best aspect of Smith's books are the rich and complex story lines and VILE BLOOD might be his most ambitious yet. I'm aware to be in minority here, but I love when an author requires me to be patient. To me, literature is a business of relationship and I love when an author, such as Smith, takes the necessary time to build them.
Minty wiped herself and, still sitting on the toilet, spotted the razor blade lying on the floor and even though Skye tried to hide her cut wrist beneath her other hand, the older woman craned forward and saw a drop of blood floating in the water like an accusing question mark. Minty, smelling of booze and man, reached across and embraced Skye saying, "Oh baby, oh baby." And Skye just let go and sobbed, holding onto Minty who stroked her hair saying, "Nothin' and nobody worth that baby. No way."
I loved VILE BLOOD's story line, but reason why it didn't make me fall off my chair is that it could've used more breathing room. The book is self-consciously short, which is understandable given its experimental nature, but the form gets in the way of the content. While I thought the Martindales were well-enough developed, I could've used getting to know VILE BLOOD's antagonists a little better. Smith doesn't focus on them, though. The focal point of this novel is the duality that inhabits Skye Martindale. That itself is where VILE BLOOD transcend its genre and goes into psychological horror and even literary territory. By never explaining directly the nature of "The Other" **, Smith makes it an uncanny companion to his protagonist. One that she keeps trying to mend fences with and understand better. Good psychological horror works this way: you can only give a certain part of the answer to the readers.
I can rank this book better as a part of Roger Smith's canon than on its own merits. I would place it in between ISHMAEL TOFFEE and DUST DEVILS. It's a good book, that understands that you need to tell a good story above all things and yet I missed Smith's trademark locales and the precision of his human drama. In that sense, I'm sure it was a lot harder to write than his conventional books because so much more came straight out of Smith's mind. You have to appreciate an author willing to gamble like this, just because he can. It's also his third publication for 2012, which is admirable. VILE BLOOD is an experiment with genre that will satisfy hardcore horror readers, who will find everything within the pages from guts and gore to an understated supernatural story line. I always spend a wicked good time with Roger Smith's books. I have to say I like him a little better than Max Wilde though.
* Nowhere South, probably, because there are frequent allusions to the Mexican border and "the cartels."
** Smith/Wilde explains where "The Other" comes from, but never exactly what it is. At least, not explicitly.
I'm a pop culture blogger and author living in Montreal, Canada with my better half Josie and my dog Scarlett. I am a proud member of author collective Zelmer Pulp and have about a dozen of short stories published to my resume.