I finally got around to his Dust Devils, using the book being recently picked up by the wonderful New Pulp Press as my excuse for covering it, and I hate myself even more for sleeping on it the last three years. This is Smith at his most epic and, thankfully for sick bastards like myself, his most pitiless. Where most thrillers tease you with a dark premise only to in the end give you consequences along the lines of our hero being shot in the shoulder or losing his partner at the end of act two, Smith starts out pitch black and shit only gets more fucked up from there.
And, shit, it’d take some real effort for a book to begin more grimly than Dust Devils.
The novel kicks off with former apartheid activist and reporter Robert Dell’s family (wife and two five-year-old twins) being murdered by the ruthless South African government killer Inja Mazibuko. While Dell is still in shock from grief, Inja, having botched the job by not having killed Dell as well, uses his influence to have Dell charged with his family’s murder. Before he can be transported to the infamous Pollsmoor Penitentiary and his almost certain death, Dell is rescued by the man he hates the most: his career mercenary father Bobby Dell. The entire country out for his head and with justice seemingly not even remotely achievable in such a corrupt nation, father and son go deep into the Zululand on a suicide mission of revenge against the powerful warlord Mazibuko.
There are more major characters in this story that I didn’t even mention in that brief synopsis but I’ll let you discover them for yourself because believe me, dear reader, you’re gonna wanna read this beast toot-sweet. Smith’s bleak vision of South Africa is one of my favorite places to trek through in literature and Dust Devils, with much of its action taking place well outside of his usual, urban Cape Town and Cape Flats locales, is bold new territory for him.
But it’s not just the rural locations that make this different from Smith’s other work, it’s also the scope of the story, the players here not just the rich of Cape Town being fucked with by the poor of the Cape Flats, but the hugely corrupt government fucking with the life of an ordinary man. But instead of your usual conspiracy thriller where our man wants to expose the faceless demons in power as the crooks they really are, Dell is just looking to get some payback on a tangible evil in Inja Mazibuko.
So don’t be like the Nerd and skip over Dust Devils for a moment longer, dear reader- go and get yourself some of this oil-black nasty in front of your eyes immediately. When it’s all over you’ll be screaming your thanks at an invisible me through tears of blood.