Thursday, December 31, 2009

South African thriller opens with a barrage of good lines

The thumbs-up on Roger Smith's Wake Up Dead comes once again from the energetic David Thompson of Houston's Murder By the Book. He recommended this South African thriller, and I think I'll like it because the opening pages are full of quotable lines. Here are some of my favorites:
"The night they were hijacked, Roxy Palmer and her husband, Joe, ate dinner with an African cannibal and his Ukrainian whore."
and
"The cannibal elbowed her beneath her plastic tits. `Go and piss.' Coming from his mouth it sounded almost like a benediction: Go in peace."
and, maybe best of all:
"They walked into the tiled and scented bathroom, Michael Bolton dribbling from the ceiling speakers."
The challenge will now be whether Smith can sustain and whether the story can bear that much verbal panache for 290 pages. I think I'll have lots of fun finding out.

(Wake Up Dead is Smith's second thriller. Read more about the author here. Read more about South African crime fiction at the Crime Beat Web site. And does the prose in these brief excerpts remind you of anyone?)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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42 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Sounds Ellroy-ish, but then everything does to me. I still think of The Cold 6000 as a modern crime fiction bible.

Incidentally just saw Sherlock Holmes. Good film I thought. Pretty solid performances and nice secular story. Pity about the villain and Holmes doing the cliched ending - I thought we might have gotten something more cerebral.

Also two false notes in the script: Brits dont say counter clockwise and I'm pretty sure the use of lousy to mean bad didnt come in to the 30's. (Henry Miller was still using it to mean lice ridden in Tropic of Capricorn)

December 31, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I thought the book's opening chapters sound a bit like Elmore Leonard. But then, fast-moving, witty crime-ficiton prose often does, and my knowledge of Leonard's work is no more than superficial.

I'd agree that Sherlock Holmes' ending was not a strong point. "Lousy" will require a bit of etymological research. I wonder how non-British usages might have crept into the script. Were the screenwriters American? Ands what to the British say instead of "counterclockwise" -- or do they just avoid moving in that direction?

December 31, 2009  
Blogger Sucharita Sarkar said...

Roger Smith sounds really dashing - or as Indian mummies are wont to say, 'dashy-pushy'.

An aggressive literary style makes for interesting decoding. Reminds me a little of Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone's toughspeak, but of course, maybe in Smith it is the narrator, not the detective, speaking.

December 31, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I quite like dashy-pushy. The pride of the first component gives way quickly to the put-down of the second, thereby militating against excessive self-regard on the part of the person to whom it is applied. One can almost see the chest swelling at "dashー" followed by the smile freezing then collapsing at "ーy-pushy."

In this case, it's the narrator, or rather the third-person narrators speaking successively from the points of view of several characters. Even more than the tough, breezy style, the multiple points of view remind me of Leonard, if I recall correctly the Leonard I've read. Even more than Leonard, this technique reminds me of Declan Burke's fine The Big O.

December 31, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

anti clockwise.

December 31, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I also think that at a script conference stage someone said: "But why should American audiences care if a lunatic takes over parliament."

"Hmmmm, good point, ok, we'll have him say that he wants to take the colonies back. One line should do it."

But I still liked the film.

December 31, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Anti-clockwise? Cor!

December 31, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yeah, that stuff about wanting to take the colonies back was a bit of mad-scientist silliness, a signal to viewers to shift their minds into neutral and stop thinking about innovations to the Holmes legend and other weighty matters. And the bad guy's Nazi fashion sense was none too suble either.

I don't know if the screenwriters are British, Americn or some third alternative, but if the director had his input on dialogue, do you suppose Guy Ritchie could have picked up "counterclockwise" from Madonna?

December 31, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Yes he's forgotten that Brits say anti-clockwise but he got fifty million bucks and a house so I'd say the tradeoff was worth it.

December 31, 2009  
Blogger Brian Lindenmuth said...

Did the copy editor mess up that first quote? Yes, yes he did.

Quick, I have to go make a screen grab.

I thought Wake Up Dead wasn't out yet? We have Mixed Blood here.

December 31, 2009  
Blogger Mack said...

I always liked saying widdershins, myself.

I had an opportunity to get an ARC of Wake Up Dead and loved it enough to pre-order a copy from Amazon. Roger has terrific ability to combine setting, characters, and dialog. This book, even more than Mixed Blood, isn't for the squeamish. There is one particularly nasty character that had a hardened thriller reader like myself saying ewwww. I wrote about Wake Up dead on my blog.

December 31, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, maybe you could apply for a job as Madonna's man for a few years. You'd make a few bucks, it wouldn't hurt your career, and you could commiserate with Alex Rodriguez.

December 31, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Brian, when I make a typo, I do it with style. If one is going to mess up, one ought to do so on the order of "... are dinner" with a cannibal.

Wake Up Dead is due here next month, I think. I enjoyed the opening chapters so much that I forgot all about the customary ARC injunction about checking all quotations against the finished book before publication.

December 31, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mack, I think I know who that character is going to be. And I'll look in on your discussion once I've finished the book. Thanks.

Thanks, too, for enlarging my vocabulary.

December 31, 2009  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter
I'd never heard of Leighton Gage or Roger Smith before but thanks to your recommendations I've checked out what work they have online.

Probably due to my own idiosyncracies, the Gage chapters I read didn't do anything for me but I was very impressed with Roger Smith's work. I'll be trying to get my hands on Mixed Blood and Wake Up Dead as soon as possible.

Thanks for the tip.

December 31, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, I've known about Leighton Gage for a couple of years, but Roger Smith is a new discovery, so I'm especially excited about his work.

I will say that if you decide to read Gage, Dying Gasp has some interesting observations about, among other things, snuff movies.

January 01, 2010  
Blogger Dorte H said...

It will be interesting to see what you think after those 290 pages. I have one African novel on my Global Challenge List plus some ideas (so I may still be swayed).

January 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dorte, the book is still holding up well. The dialogue, for one thing, gives a fair impression of Cape Town flavor, so it might make a good book for a Global Challenge. Michael Stanley is another author from that part of South Africa, and, from North Africa, you might take a look at Yasmina Khadra.

January 01, 2010  
Blogger Roger Smith said...

Peter, thanks for taking a look at Wake Up Dead. Mack, good to see you weighing in. All the best for 2010.

January 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

My pleasure. I finished the book this evening, and I'm impressed. I should have another post up soon.

January 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Roger: I was a bit surprised to read colored and, I think, black characters saying ja a lot because I associate that sound with Afrikaans. Is that a peculiarity of Cape Town speech, or has the "j" sound crossed linguistic boundaries?

January 02, 2010  
Blogger Roger Smith said...

Peter, coloreds (particularly in Cape Town) speak Afrikaans as their native tongue. Colored Afrikaans has a style and humor that is unique, and in Wake Up Dead I've tried to render it in language accessible to foreign readers. Ja is commonly used by all South Africans, a bit like yeah in the U.S.

January 02, 2010  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

And here's a shocking comment re: South Africa via the BBC:

“It is a fact that a woman born in South Africa has a greater chance of being raped, than learning how to read.”

http://slyoyster.com/newsandpolitics/2009/the-war-against-south-african-women/

I think we'll be seeing a lot more South African crime fiction. Thanks for the recommendation, Peter. I look forward to reading this one.

January 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Roger. I hadn't known what language colored South Africans spoke. With your note, I think back to Allan Boesak, with his Dutch-sounding name and his church affiliation. That might have clued me in, though I think I only ever heard him speak English. In any case, I'd better shut up lest anyone get the idea that thrillers and crime fiction can be educational.

I thought Wake Up Dead did a fine job of appealing to the reader's ear. And I think there was one explicit reference to Cape Town Afrikaans in the book.

January 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ja, Sandra, I think you'll like this book.

You may notice its lack of references to South African political events on a large scale. And large-scale is certainly the way many of us are accustomed to think of South Africa: in messianic or revolutionary or apocalyptic terms.

Perhaps South Africans think or once thought about their country the same way and, now that the hangover has passed, crime writers can get down th the task of writing about "normal" life in the country, even if that normal life should happen to be especially hellish.

January 02, 2010  
Blogger Mack said...

Dorte, If I read the published version of Wake Up Dead in 2010 will it count toward the challenge if I have already read it as an ARC?

January 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, you might have to call in lawyers on this.

January 02, 2010  
Blogger Roger Smith said...

Peter, not to be too educational here (!) but you're on the right track: colored or mixed race South Africans are mostly descendants of slaves imported to the Cape by the Dutch, and took on the language (and often the names) of their owners. And, of course, Afrikaans evolved from Dutch.

During the apartheid years, writing crime fiction in South Africa seemed beside the point. But now, sadly, South Africa is one of the most crime-ravaged countries in the world, and writing crime seems all too appropriate.

January 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's sad to think what a transition South Africa is having on its way to being a "normal" country.

I mentioned to a soccer-fan colleague that I'd been reading South African crime fiction. "Just in time," said. And he wondered how crime would affect the World Cup.

January 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dorte, in the comment above, I should have written that Michael Stanley is another author (another two authors, in fact) from southern Africa rather than South Africa. He, or at least the Stanley half, is from South Africa, but I don't know which part.

January 03, 2010  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Thank you, Peter.

I wonder whether you could do me (or rather the participants of the global challenge) a favour by writing a list or post about African crime novels? European, North American and Australasian novels should not form a problem, but some participants may need inspiration for the others.

January 03, 2010  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Mack, as Peter says .... ;)

No, I have said earlier that I am not going to police anyone so I suppose I should not sue them either :O

January 03, 2010  
Blogger Mack said...

Dorte,

I've been playing with Amazon wish lists to as a means to identify (and remember) authors whose book I may want to buy and I have one started for Southern African crime writers. It is public.
http://bit.ly/7K324Y

Peter mentioned Crime Beat http://crimebeat.book.co.za/
which is where I got my titles. I only have those available from Amazon since I don't want to torture myself needlessly.

January 03, 2010  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Thanks a lot, Mack.

I have added both links to the collection of links on the global reading blog.

I am still looking for Margie Orford, Blood Rose, however (because I am stubborn, and because I can also use it for my What´s in a Name challenge). When the price and postage are right, I´ll buy it.

January 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dorte, give me a day or two, or at least a few hours, and I'll be happy to put together such a list.

January 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mack, I hope you find a satisfactory way to meet the challenge. As a last resort, you could resort to sophistry about publication date and whether an ARC counts. Good luck.

January 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dorte and Mack, it might interest you to know that I read Declan Burke's The Big O in 2007 in its original small-press UK/Ireland edition. When a big U.S. press then published the novel the following year, I had no qualms about including it on a list of best crime novels of 2008.

January 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mack, have you looked at the Book Depository as a place to shop online? You and Dorte (and anyone else reading this) might also be interested in Michael Stanley's Web site and in the Murder is Everywhere blog, to which Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, who write together as Michael Stanley, are among the contributors.

January 03, 2010  
Blogger Mack said...

Peter,
Thanks for the links. I have both bookmarked.

I love Book Depository.

I'm not worried about Africa for the challenge; I was mostly trying to wind up Dorte but those Scandinavians are unflappable.

Interesting you should direct us to Michael Stanley's blog and web site. I had already picked out Carrion Death as one of my Africa books though now I am leaning to including The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu as well.

I will re-read the published copy of Wake Up Dead. I've never had the opportunity to read an ARC and the published copy. I wish I could choose the the dust jacket. The Germans have a nice one featuring the Okapi knife.

January 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mack, I'll look for that dust jacket. The Okapi knife certainly looks large in the novel.

Michael Stanley's work offers an interesting counterpoint to Roger Smith's if one wants to discuss different ways authors write about "normal" crime in South Africa.

I've never compared an ARC and a finished copy. I recently read an ARC in which I found several small mistakes and discrepancies that were just the sorts of things one might expect to be corrected in a final copy. I should check to see if they were corrected.

January 03, 2010  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Mack: so you were trying to wind me up? Thank you for telling me,because I don´t think I would ever have noticed :D

Peter: I have been following Murder is Everywhere for a few weeks (and ordered Leighton Gage´s debut for the challenge), plus Stanley has just joined the global challenge!

I don´t use the Book Depository, though, as they don´t consider me part of their world ;)

January 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've never used the Book Depository, but people in Australia swear by it. And it offers free shipping, I'm told.

If Michael Stanley is part of the challenge, you could add yet another level: Write a novel or two set on each continent.

January 04, 2010  

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