The man writes blisteringly operatic tales of bloody revenge, stories where the emotions and actions are at eleven yet never hammy or arch. The guy leaves it all on the gore-flooded floor every time and Sacrifices might just be his masterpiece.
As with previous Smith novels, Sacrifices is about ritzy Cape Town whites having horrific confrontations with the mixed-race poor of the Cape Flats ghetto, though this time out he isn’t dealing with the traditional compressed time frame of his other thrillers. Sacrifices takes place over a solid year, with shit kicking off after Mike Lane’s ‘roid raging son kills a girl he brought home for the night to the guest house of their gated community home.
Mike’s wife Beverley quickly takes action, setting up the crime scene so it looks like the culprit is the meth-addicted son of their mixed-race live-in servant. The devious plan seems to go off without a hitch, the scrawny boy being killed by his fellow inmates right after his arrest in the nightmare world that is Pollsmoor prison. But in Roger Smith’s world, the idea of a clean getaway is an utterly alien concept.
In addition to his gifts as a go-for-broke, full-dark storyteller, Smith is also acts as a hyper-engaged tour guide to the most exciting hellscape in fiction: the aforementioned Cape Flats of South Africa, a place that makes crack-boom-era Compton look like Martha’s Vineyard. And when this place where death and gang violence aren’t even worth slowing down the minibus for butts up against the cloistered world of those who live against the looming Table Mountain, shit gets dire real fucking quick.
But what brings home the thrilling world and violent events and twists of this story is Smith’s ability to bring us into his characters’ heads and bodies with his vivid descriptions of their mental and physical states. No other writer working today is able to really make his readers truly feel like they are in the bodies of his agonized cast. Anxiety, depression, guilt, paranoia. Bile, vomit, blood, adrenaline. We are not allowed an inch of distance from these characters and it makes for a hugely intense, blissfully stressful reading experience. And for basement junkies like the Nerd, someone who lives for such sweaty, painful nightmares in his fiction, Sacrifices was page after page of nail-crunching, hair-pulling nirvana.
I cannot recommend Smith’s work highly enough and Sacrifices might be the best distillation of his world and style to date. The scope is more epic, the thriller elements less pronounced while the story never tighter, and the downfall of these characters is especially Shakespearean. If Sacrifices is your first voyage with one of the true original badasses of crime, the Nerd is ecstatic to be the one to shatter the magnum against the back your innocent fucking brain. Don’t even bother going below deck – you won’t be able to sleep a wink.