WAKE UP DEAD by Roger Smith


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A carjacking sets off a wave of intense violence in a section of Cape Town tourists don’t visit.

Headed home after dinner with “an African cannibal and his Ukrainian whore,” South African Joe Palmer and his wife Roxy, a one-time American model now of a certain age, are hijacked by two brutal ghetto thugs, Disco and Goddy. As the ex-cons speed off in Joe’s Mercedes, Roxy pulls out a gun and shoots Joe between the eyes. Smith (Mixed Blood, 2009) proceeds from that startling opener to cut from scene to scene, establishing an intricate Robert Altman–like narrative that, when the pieces finally connect, forms a terrifying portrait of Cape Flats. Billy Afrika, a mercenary, returns home, hoping to spirit Barbara Adams out of the reach of Disco, who threatens to seduce Barbara’s daughter. Billy, it turns out, had worked for Joe, who owed him enough money to get the women to safety. Roxy, meanwhile, must elude Disco and Goddy, who know she spotted them in a police lineup even though she refused to identify them. And Disco yearns to spring his “wife,” Piper, in prison for the murder of Barbara’s husband. In a brutally explicit scene, Disco murders Barbara and rapes her daughter. Seeking to avenge the murders, Billy forms an alliance with Roxy. A palpable attraction growing between them, they become two of the more likable characters in view. Police complicate their efforts by seizing Joe’s house and his assets. Disco and Piper (escaped from prison) close in, and eventually Roxy falls into their hands. The aptly named Detective Ernie Maggott brings only pale light into the darkness. Opportunism, not a sense of good or evil, sets his course.

Smith swiftly and steadily blasts away with abrupt, crude and profane conflicts. Only a slightly sentimental ending relieves his searing vision of characters trapped in a fetid purgatory.

Pub Date: Feb. 2nd, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-8050-8876-2
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2009


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