Capture opens with security guard Vernon Saul watching from a distance while a four year-old girl drowns in the Atlantic. He’s part of Sniper Security, an outfit that watches over a rich Cape Town beach community, and the girl in question is Sunny Exley, daughter of American motion capture whiz kid Nick Exley and British author Caroline Exley. While their daughter fights to stay above water Nick is smoking pot with a friend and Caroline’s inside blowing her Eastern European lover. Instead of saving the girl, ex-cop Vernon Saul waits until she’s good and dead before rolling up and putting on a brave show, filling the girl’s dead lungs with air with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
This false act of failed heroism makes Nick Exley instantly indebted to Vernon, with the security guard further sealing his bond with the rich “whitey” by finding him a funeral home and pastor for the service, not to mention deleting the security footage that shows Nick smoking pot while his daughter dies. In the days following the funeral we watch as Exley retreats to his studio to do some 21 Century Frankensteining, attempting to create his own digital sunny on his many monitors, and Caroline, already suffering from some nasty postpartum depression before the accident, stops taking her meds and inflicts her mania on all within earshot, i.e. her meek husband. We also follow around the sadistic Vernon as he abuses his diabetic mother, revenge for her not lifting a finger to stop the years of sexual abuse Vernon suffered at the hands of his dead shithead father, and wields his power over Dawn, a single mother and ex-streetwalker-turned-stripper whose daughter could be taken away with one word from Vernon to her social worker.
How Vernon eventually gets his hooks good and deep into Exley is something I’ll leave to you find out in Roger Smith’s new novel, but I can tell you that it is just as fucked up as everything else I’ve described thus far. Smith is one of my favorite authors going, his Mixed Blood and Wake Up Dead having both blown me away when I read them last year, and the opportunity to return to his Cape Town is most fucking welcome. It’s a world where the rich and white live in the decidedly European and mountainous city proper while the poor and (usually) mixed-race live in shitty shacks out on the Cape Flats, a hellish ghetto where wind, dust, rape, and murder are the only constants.
But the exotic and hugely exciting setting is far from the only thing to recommend about Smith’s work. The plot is operatic in its violence and tragedy, with every element coming back around to kick us in the teeth at exactly the right moment, and his characters are heartbreakingly real and immensely flawed, giving the story more darkness, pain and weight than we could ever have imagined. Caroline is a nightmare of a woman, more relieved than saddened by her premature passing, but that is owed more to her despairing condition than any true flaw in her personality. Nick is a nice enough guy but too much of a martyr than a man in his marriage, too clouded and closed off by grief and guilt to really be effective in life, and hopelessly unaware of the darkness within him until its too late. Vernon Saul is one of the most fascinating and disgusting villains to come around in a long fucking time, his need for brutal control and power reaching beyond the usual motives of sex or money, but deep down he’s just a scared kid, unable to sleep, fuck, or relate to anyone beyond a sneaky surface level due to his terrible childhood.
Holding all these ridiculously fucking strong elements together is Smith’s impeccable prose, which makes everything in the novel hit you on a physical level. In fact, physical is a big part of Smith’s voice. The feeling of guilt, the feeling of grief, the feeling of power, of sex, of violence, of redemption (which is admittedly in short supply here), are what the Nerd will remember when looking back on Capture. Many novels claim to be dark, but few can envelop your brain in shadow quite like this motherfucker. This is a book of sweat, vomit, and blood, and you’re gonna be fucking sticky with all three by the end of it. (Well, okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration…but not much of one.) If think you’ve got the stomach to withstand that kind of pain, the Nerd is sure you’ll come through the harrowing experience of Capture feeling nothing but some form of twisted love for Roger Smith.