Roger Smith

Wake Up Dead

"It simply doesn’t get more “noir” than this."


It's a hot, dry night in Cape Town when gun-runner Joe Palmer and his ex-model, American wife Roxy are car-jacked, leaving Joe lying in a pool of blood. As the thieves, meths addict Disco and his sidekick Godwyn, make their getaway, Roxy makes a split-second decision that changes her life forever.

This decision brings her on a collision course with Billy Afrika, a mercenary to whom Joe owes money, Disco's prison-loving gangster “husband” Piper, a would-be African insurgent leader, and a dirty cop determined to use Roxy to escape his dangerous Cape Flats beat.

As these lives collide, old debts are settled and underscored in blood and Roxy is caught in a wave of increasing violence in this beautiful and uncompromising city.

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It simply doesn't get more “noir” than this. This is easily the most violent book I've read this year, with a degree of carnage that could almost push this book into the horror genre. However, it is a violence that is germane to the characters and springs from the author's understanding of the people he is writing about, rather than violence just for the sake of it. In Piper we have one of the most loathsome and fearsome characters I've come across in crime fiction, but he is a clearly a product of his brutal upbringing. The gang is his family; the jungle of the prison provides his life lessons. Could he have turned out any other way? Like almost everyone else in this novel Piper is locked into a mindset of poverty, intolerance and ignorance; a mindset that could be argued is the bastard child of apartheid and an outlook that the author demonstrates continues to trouble the inhabitants of this beautiful country. Indeed, it is this honest portrayal of the city and its inhabitants that offers some form of mitigation for the violence mentioned earlier. Each character, even the ones on the right side of the law, straddle the line between good and bad and each is vividly described giving the reader a strong sense of the physical. Roxy is a beautiful ex-model and the frivolously named Disco is described as a startlingly handsome man, but in this dark fable being endowed with good looks is no blessing and becomes the launch-point to each of these characters' troubles. With his neat prose and breakneck pace, Roger Smith has conjured an excellent read. I'm guessing that this is not a book that the South African tourist board will be touting; it is undoubtedly a book that will place this country's thriller writers in the forefront of a world readership.

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