Thursday, June 09, 2011

Dust Devils: An early look at Roger Smith's latest

Roger Smith has a thing for dust, grit, and sand, usually baking under a searing sun and driven by a hot, dry wind.  Here's a bit from his first novel, Mixed Blood:
"The wind howled across the Flats, picking up the sand and grit and firing it at Zondi like a small-bore shotgun. He felt it in his ears, up his nostrils, and it sneaked in and found his eyes behind the Diesel sunglasses."
Smith's Cape Town is a gritty place, literally and figuratively.  Wake Up Dead, Smith's grim, funny, hyper-violent thriller of a second novel, was one of my favorite books of 2010, and it was pretty gritty, dusty, and sun-basked, too.

His third book elevates the dust to a title position. I haven't read enough to know how the dust figures in Dust Devils, but the early chapters are full of grit, violence, and a pace that's breakneck and touchingly human at the same time. One early highlight: a Zulu tourist village that's a loony melange of past and present and a zinger of a comment on contemporary South Africa, with a spot of menace to keep us from chuckling too hard.

(Smith owes his depiction of hot, dry, nerve-crackling weather principally to Cape Town's climate. But he owes a bit to Raymond Chandler, too. )

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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20 Comments:

Anonymous roger smith said...

Peter, the dust comes via the semi-desert Karoo and a barren, eroded valley in KwaZulu-Natal. There are some photographs on my website that I took during a research trip that are pretty dusty!

June 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Roger, here’s a link to your site, and thanks for the dusty explanation.

I almost sent an interesting typo into the blogosphere. I had typed the opening of this post's fourth paragraph as: "His thirst book elevates ... " The dust and heat were getting to me.

June 10, 2011  
Anonymous roger smith said...

Hah! I would have been tempted to let that one loose out there. Thanks for linking, and I hope the rest of the book holds your attention.

June 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Leaving it in once I'd spotted it would have been too calculating on my part. I'm a sub-editor to the marrow of my bones.

June 10, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Read Mixed Blood and really liked it. The geography is strong which is a very important factor for me. Good characters, a sense of humour, tight plotting, atmosphere...it aint rocket science. A great novel.

It makes you wonder how good Peter Temple could have been if he had stayed in South Africa.

June 10, 2011  
Blogger Michael Malone said...

Yeah, loved Wake up Dead and Mixed Blood. REALLY looking forward to Dust Devils.

June 10, 2011  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I remember seeing a not-very-good film called 'Dust Devils', about 15 years ago.
It was set in Southern Africa and was more style than content, but you might want to check it out anyway, Peter

June 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, you'll see from the first comment in this string that Smith has his geography in mind. Nice that he knows where the winds come from.

Yes, Peter Temple might have made something of himself if he'd only stayed home. South Africa has stayed with him, though. He did set one book there but, more to the point, he said -- and I forget the precise words -- that a certain guilt attaches to whites from South Africa of a certain generation.

Good characters, a sense of humour, tight plotting, atmosphere...it aint rocket science. A great novel.

Yep, he offers adventure, tension, melodrama, love of a kind, characters on quests -- the stuff that good stories are made of.

June 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Michael, based on the opening chapters, I'd say you might well like this one as well. As in "Wake Up Dead," Smith successively introduces different characters in different places, and anticipation builds as to how they will come together.

And the book starts bringing them together early -- a nice mix of anticipation and action.

June 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, TCK. Smith may not be the only artist influenced by the area's wind, sun and dust. Wind. Sun. Dust. Hell, even I feel like making a Merchant-Ivory film.

June 10, 2011  
Anonymous solo said...

I've only read excerpts from Roger Smith's books, so any comment I make doesn't deserve to be taken very seriously.

I liked the excerpts from the first two books. But I was much less charmed by the excerpt from Dust Devils, which appeared in Plots With Guns. Plots With Guns? For an already published writer, this is either very good for PWG or not so good for Roger Smith.

The opening chapter was OK, at least, if you're willing to forgive lines like

She heard the teeth of his zipper meshing

but the second chapter, which describes a car journey with two parents and two small kids in the back seat had me asking after the first two paragraphs: Are we there yet?

The chapter finally terminates with a bit of action in which the car is run off the road and we get the line:

He went out backwards, in an explosion of glass, like he’d been ejected.

Perhaps, my understanding of the word ejected is inadequate, but if you go out through the window during a car accident, it's not 'like' you're being ejected, you are being ejected. Such ejection doesn't require a James Bond like ejector seat. Simple physics will do the job.

Of course, if I'd had access to the full book, I'm sure I'd have found something more complimentary to say about it.

June 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Your quibble over "ejected" is the sort of quibble I'll often have with a book. But the guy ejected from the seat is the chapter's point-of-view character. Smith's "like he'd been" could reflect, intentionally or otherwise, not just the ejection but the character's reaction to it.

Imagine that you're seeing the scene play out, that it happens to catch your eye from a distance. "Hey!" you might remark, "that guy's just been ejected from the bloody car!"

Now imagine that you're the one being ejected. Events happen faster that your conscious mind can process them. Maybe you can't believe what's happening. "Holy shit!" you think, as you soar into the merciless blue sky, seeing the sun-cracked earth from an unexpected vantage point. "I-- I-- it's like... It's like I've been ejected."

June 10, 2011  
Anonymous solo said...

It was just a quibble, Peter. I feel like it's been er, rejected.

June 10, 2011  
Anonymous solo said...

I do like that 'merciless blue sky' of yours, though, Peter. That's one motherfuckin' sky I'm going to be steering clear of.

June 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Au contraire. Your quibble compelled me to examine the passage more carefully. Quite naturally my speculation about Smith's reason for choosing "like he'd been ejected" are just that: speculation. For all I know, Smith might slap his head and say you're right.


My v-word: repress

June 10, 2011  
Blogger Mack said...

Interesting. I've read chapter 2 at least 3 times and the way eject is used never registered. Still doesn't bother me after reading the discussion.

June 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I see solo's point, though the word's use did not bother me in this instance.

Here's your discussion of Dust Devils, for anyone who feels like a look.

June 10, 2011  
Anonymous solo said...

Mack, I've just looked at your blog and it says you're reading 'a pre-ARC version of Roger's third book.' That sounds pretty damn cool, or as we'd likely say here in Dublin: deadly.

But maybe you might let us plebians in on WTF a pre-ARC version is. We're not all smart guys in-the-know like you are, Mac.

June 12, 2011  
Blogger Mack said...

Solo, I wouldn't put myself in the "smart guys-in-the -know" category . More of a plodder actually.

I'm not exactly sure why I called it a pre-ARC. It seemed appropriate at the time. What I read was a PDF of Dust Devils. It didn't seem like an ARC and wan't exactly sent me as an ARC so I qualified it.

You are one for for focusing on the use of words, aren't you. Not critising, mind. When one finds writing difficult, as I do, it is good to have to think why I chose to express myself a particular way.

June 12, 2011  
Anonymous solo said...

Mack, I have trouble with words myself, so I know what you're talking about.

June 12, 2011  

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