The Nerd is not one to judge a book by its cover but by its country of origin? Guilty as fucking charged. Like many a full-dark junkie, the Nerd is well-fucking wary of all these “international” mysteries being read by totebag-carrying, socks-with-sandals-wearing, organic-only-eating assholes who can only take in some (heavens no!) “genre fiction” if they can learn about another culture while they’re at it. Dragon Tattoo and the like just ain’t the Nerd’s bag, dear reader, and Roger Smith’s latest “Cape Town Thriller” had me raising a skeptical, disturbingly un-hygenic eyebrow when it came across my desk. Having just shotgunned through the last third of Wake Up Dead like I’m nineteen and it’s a case of Keystone Light (we’ve all made mistakes), I can gladly say that appearances can be tres-fucking deceiving sometimes.
The novel opens with two methed-out thugs from the Cape Flats, the violent slums of Cape Town, venturing into the ritzy side of town to hijack a Benz. The one they take belongs to a millionaire gun runner named Joe Palmer, who gets shot during the robbery. Instead of immediately calling the authorities, Joe’s wife, American ex-model Roxy Palmer, takes the dropped gun and puts a bullet through Joe’s face. If you think our heroine is off scot-free after that point, you should probably read more.
And if you think you have a handle on where the novel goes after that point from that description, let the Nerd assure you that you’re fucking ridiculously wrong. This is some wild-ass bloody opera plotting, with a cast of nasty-ass characters doing fucked up things to one another on every page. Think Allan Guthrie’s Savage Night or Anthony Neil Smith’s Psychosomatic, not some preachy bullshit novel full of italicized words that you have to look up in the glossary at the back of the book.
But despite the often pitiless and gloriously pulpy tone, don’t think that you can just pick up this book and thrill at all the grisly guttings (is there a decidedly sanitary form of disembowelment that I have yet to come across?) and beheadings. No, dear reader, there’s a lot of love baked into our hard-nosed antiheroes, even some ghastly child-in-jeopardy shit that will make you sweat at the tension. Like I said up top, the last third of this beast kept me pinned to the easy chair, fingers crossed that the right folks came out alive and the wrong ones deader than shit.
Naturally, there’s some culturally informed information dispensed throughout the novel, but never in such a way that slows down the story in favor of a history lesson. Plus, it’s mainly about the gang ghettos of Cape Town, an area of focus that, I don’t know about you, but I want to know about something fierce. If you think the mean streets of Pelecanos’ D.C. are tough, give Smith’s take on Cape Flats a gander. That said, be prepared to fucking blanch.
I wish I could share with you more of the fucked up characters and scenes in Wake Up Dead (especially the awesomely demented Piper!) but it’s definitely best left for you to discover that shit on your own. Basement crazies be certain: Wake Up Dead gets the Nerd’s seal of approval. Totebagging anti-genre stuck-ups: pick this up to see what can be achieved in your cloistered sub-genre when the author’s got a fucking pair on him. Now if you’ll excuse the Nerd, he’s going to go peek in at one of those Scandinavian bullshit-looking novels, see if he’s missed the boat entirely.