Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Review of Wake Up Dead by Roger Smith (Serpent’s Tail, 2010)
If you’re heading on holiday to South Africa do not pack this book; indeed, the South African Tourist Board probably has a contract out on Smith’s head. It’s difficult to think of a crime that it is not committed in Wake Up Dead - armed robbery, murder, theft, blackmail, rape, fraud, bribery, assault, kidnapping, cannibalism, abandonment, carjacking, drug dealing, the harvesting of body parts; the list is endless. And they happen multiple times. In other words, Wake Up Dead is not for the faint hearted. From its inception it’s a fast moving, violent tale, whose pace and body count rises as it progresses to its bloody conclusion. Few of the characters have any redeemable qualities; one way or another they are all on the make, scrabbling and fighting to stay alive and out of each other’s clutches. And yet it is oddly compelling, sucking the reader into a gritty, gripping story that is full of twists and sucker punches. At times the violence seems a little gratuitous, but in the main illustrates the social realities of gang culture in the ghetto and prison, and the cheapness and tenuous nature of such lives. Given the pace and intricacies of the interlocking subplots, the story could have easily slipped into a narrative mess, but Smith writes with an assured hand that keeps everything in motion but straightforward to follow. I was hooked from the start, caught in the headlights as the carnage and life histories of its victims unfolded on the page. The most visceral, action packed rollercoaster ride of a novel I’ve read this year.