Wednesday, February 5, 2014

South African Noir

Dust Devils

by Robert Smith

4 out of 5 delicious sheep heads

(I received a free copy of this book from New Pulp Press for this review.)

This book starts out with infidelity, murder, more murder and political/police corruption.

Then things really get dark.

Robert Dell is a white South African journalist who protested apartheid.  He’s a liberal, a committed pacifist and married to a black woman.  His father, Bobby Goodbread, proves that sometimes the apple falls a long way from the tree.   Goodbread is an American who got up to all kinds of evil deeds as part of his job as a CIA agent fighting communism in various hot spots. He worked with the white right-wing whites in South Africa to keep apartheid in place and liked to brag that it was his information that led to the capture of Nelson Mandela. As you would expect, the two have little to talk about.

Dell is framed for a horrible crime by Inja Mazibuko, a brutal enforcer for a high ranking government official.   As he’s about to be transferred to a prison where he’ll almost certainly be killed Dell is rescued by his estranged father.  With no other options, Dell reluctantly joins Goodbread on a mission of revenge.

Mazibuko has returned to a remote region that he runs like a warlord so that he can marry his fourth wife.  Sunday is a young girl who has essentially been sold to Mazibuko, and the prospect is terrifying since she witnessed him murdering her family when she was a child. Her desperate attempt to seek help in the form of a fax to an old phone number lands on the desk of Disaster Zondi, a police officer who just saw his department gutted by corruption.  Zondi is from the area and used to be part of the same crew as Mazibuko before changing his ways. He also knew Sunday’s mother, and he returns to his old stomping grounds for reasons he doesn’t fully understand.

The opening chapters of this made me think that his was going to be a fast-paced violent thrill ride, and while the pace is brisk and there’s no shortage of carnage, there’s a lot more going on in this book than just a story about people trying to kill each other in the wilds of Africa.  The poverty stricken area here is a mix of Zulu tribal rituals and superstitions mixed with bits of the modern world like BMWs, cell phones and AK-47s.

The major characters are all extremely well developed, and Smith makes you completely understand them all from the liberal and educated Dell to the teenaged Sunday who has never used a modern bathroom.  Zondi’s return to the place he grew up stirs mixed emotions about the boy he used to be and the man he became once he left.  Goodbread is fascinating as an aging Cold Warrior who thought he was doing the right thing at the time.  Particularly disturbing is Mazibuko whose is almost a force of nature in his ruthlessness, and he makes for one spectacularly evil villain.

Just when you think you know where the story is going, there’ll be a surprising but logical twist and nothing goes as expected.  It’s not a happy read, but it’s an intriguing one.

Also posted at Goodreads.

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