Dust Devils by Roger Smith

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Dust Devils by Roger Smith

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: A violent trail across South Africa results when a journalist is framed for his family's murder. Fast-paced, with a stinging social commentary if you care to take it in.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: September 2011
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
ISBN: 978-1846687952

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"Rosie Dell had come to end it. For keeps this time."

It is the affair that she's been having with Ben Baker, one of the richest men in the country. Unfortunately for Rosie, she doesn't say what she's come to say… unfortunately for Ben, for Rosie, and for her family, someone has plans to end it for her. Actually, not plans, as such. She shouldn't have been there. Everything that happens next wouldn't have, if she hadn't been.

Like many very violent stories set wherever in the world, this one has that slight touch of come-uppance about it.

Rosie is pure Afrikaans – if that isn't a contradiction in terms. Her husband Dell is the white, all-American guy who should never have ended up on the back-streets of South Africa. He's also the son of Bobby Goodbread, crazy bloody yank who'd led volunteer armies into Angola to wipe out the communists. A hero. A man unfairly jailed for refusing to give up his buddies. Dell also knows that his dad and his buddies were involved in some unforgiveable stuff back then: The rapes. The body-part trophies. The dead babies.

He deserved the sentence is Dell's view. Only now he's out.

Dell is a pacifist. He's never even held a gun, let alone fired one. An unlikely scenario, I couldn't help feeling for a reasonably prosperous white guy, a journalist at that, in the violent society that is modern day South Africa. Let's face it, even in these days, the cross-racial marriage is still to be fully accepted in some strata of society.

He's going to have to learn, though.

When Rosie fails to end it quick and get out, she becomes the unwitting witness to Ben Baker's murder. When the reprisal attack to clean up this loose end leaves Dell himself alive, but his family burning in a car wreck half-way down a cliff, he finds himself framed for the murders.

Not just a gangland killing then. Not just a robbery. This is political, and reaches all the way to the Ministry of Justice.

Author Roger Smith jumps about a bit in the narrative, to give us all sides of the story. While this technique can be irritating in some contexts, here it works well, because his chapters are short and the result is a televisual or cinematic approach which hops from scene to scene quick enough for you to retain the previous ones in mind and hold the timeline fixed.

The approach is helped by avoiding any fancy-footwork on the timeline. Where the back-story is needed, it gets threaded in through a couple of paragraphs, but for the most part the writer sticks to the straightforward narrative that best-serves the genre.

The genre is at the thriller-end of crime writing. The political content of the book is there for the taking if you care to think about what you are reading: the corruption, the unresolved racism and tribalism, the failure of the new society, the reluctance to address HIV and AIDS on scientific terms, the insidious nature of tourism in the worst-run attractions, the overriding violence. I suspect the target audience isn't really that interested in the subtleties however.

This is a violent and bloody quest tale. It's a search for justice (Dell) and for redemption (Goodbread).

Like all the best quest stories, it's littered with alternating success and failure and along the way, strongly held beliefs are challenged and must be given up if the end justifies the means. If.

The body count is high. The tender moments are few. Which is not to say that there isn't a measure of love and human compassion in the most unlikely places. Smith lifts his work above the mediocre by making his players real human characters and not just plot devices. There are no dark nights of the soul lingering over the whys and wherefores of their actions, but the occasional pause for thought, or unconscious act, or deliberate reversion to type serves to underline the core of their motivations while managing to colour it with kindness, or fear, or strength.

Fast-paced and often downright nasty, it won't be everyone's cup of tea, but I got caught up in the drama of it and cared about the outcome. Perhaps I shouldn't say that I enjoyed it: but I did.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag. We also have a review of Mixed Blood by Roger Smith.

Further reading suggestion: For a less anarchic view of South Africa try Forgive Me by Amanda Eyre Ward.

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Buy Dust Devils by Roger Smith at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Dust Devils by Roger Smith at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Dust Devils by Roger Smith at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Dust Devils by Roger Smith at Amazon.com.


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