Roger Smith writes some of the most intense novels out there today, books where all kinds of grisly violence, murder and rape are depicted graphically to put it lightly, with said violence, murder and rape often involving children. In other words, the guy doesn’t fuck around and, naturally, the Nerd loves him for it. With his latest novel, Vile Blood, Smith turns up the volume on all the nastiness, sets the action in an unnamed American border town instead of his beloved Cape Town, goes supernatural, and even ditches his good name, nom de pluming it up as Max Wilde.
Now, a lot of crime authors are doing horror- or sci-fi-infused crime novels (or crime-infused horror and sci-fi novels) these days and only rarely do I take the bait as a reader. It takes a helluva writer for me to get all that excited about an undead cop or a mind-reading private eye. I’m sure many are really strong but it’s just hard for me to make it past the back cover description for most of them. But, seeing how Roger Smith is one of the best in the fucking biz right now, I bit this time out, and good god am I ever glad I did.
Vile Blood starts with a teenage girl, Skye Martindale, being chased by a gang of rape-y thugs. But before they can get down to business, Skye lets out “the Other” within her and rips them to pieces, feasting on their guts and blood. She makes it home and cleans up, but when her brother, Deputy Gene Martindale, comes upon the scene, he knows this isn’t just another cartel slaying. When he was a teenager and Skye was a toddler, Gene watched the Other come out of Skye and rip out their father’s heart. Since good ol’ Dad had just killed Mom and was about to do the same to Gene, he covered for her, saying it was a crazy drifter who got away.
One of the responding officers that day a decade and a half previous was the hugely corrupt Dellbert Drum, and he had his suspicions then and they’ve only been confirmed now. Drum is the Sheriff of the county next to Martindale’s and, after finding Skye’s glasses at the scene, Drum takes the opportunity to expand his criminal empire into Gene’s county by blackmailing him. On top of his being forced into underworld affairs by Drum and having to protect himself and his son from his sister’s demonic side, now the man who murdered Gene’s wife and unborn son five years ago has escaped from the nuthouse and is headed straight for him…
From that description it’s obvious that Vile Blood is full-to-bursting with wicked ideas, but trust me, dear reader, you’ve barely scratched the surface of what kind of twisted shit is in store for you in this book. Smith (excuse me, “Wilde”) leads us along masterfully, keeping the story ripping along and teasing out our characters’ backstories throughout. We get to meet a deranged preacher whose flock of meth cooks, devil worshipers and prostitutes both child and adult occupy a trailer court in Drum’s county, a gangster from “the city” who orders a character’s head be removed with a handsaw while he’s still alive, and a Jesus-lookalike who spent his youth murdering unsuspecting families with his mother, deriving power from upside-down pentagrams and drinking their blood. This is lurid, gross and exciting-as-all-hell shit, dear reader, and any fan of crime or horror that goes “full dark” will groove on this shit something fierce.
The only drawback to Vile Blood is that it leaves some burning questions unanswered in the end as there’s apparently going to be a sequel coming around toot-sweet. But the Nerd can move past that because he is more than willing to burn through another Max Wilde novel in the future. If only the future was, like, right fucking now. So if you were at all skeptical that Smith’s move into horror wouldn’t be as strong as his down-and-dirty Cape Flats novels, let the Nerd assure you that his Max Wilde work is a wonderfully twisted and gorily welcome change of pace.