Monday, April 9, 2018

Review of Capture by Roger Smith (Serpent’s Tail, 2012)

Nick Exley is a software developer who specializes in motion capture. He’s something of a nomad, globetrotting as he looks to sell his product. He’s ended up in Cape Town, where he’s rented a plush, isolated beach house just yards from the ocean. On the day of his daughter’s fourth birthday, Nick is getting stoned on the deck while his wife is flirting with her lover in the kitchen, as Sunny heads to the sea to play with her new boat. From rocks nearby Vernon Saul watches the girl topple into the sea. Instead of heading to rescue her he waits, then rushes in to attempt CPR, console the family, and help deal with the police and funeral arrangements. Vernon used to be an opportunist cop until a gang shot him when he got too greedy and he was bounced out as unfit to serve, both on physical and moral grounds. Now he’s a security guard, but he’s still always looking for an angle for self-enrichment. His plan is to inveigle his way into Exley’s life and see where that takes him, knowing that he has security camera footage showing the developer smoking dope as his daughter drowns. One of Vernon’s other projects is Dawn Cupido, a former hooker and meth-head who now works as an erotic dancer and tries to protect her young daughter from the terrible upbringing she had in The Flats. That she has her daughter at all is down to Vernon, who got her back from social services. Vernon has not quite worked out how to leverage Dawn, but she owes him. And so does Nick Exley. As Exley tries to cope with the death of his daughter, Vernon manipulates the situation, which gradually turns into a nightmare of murder and lies.

Capture is thriller crime tale set in Cape Town. The tale revolves around three main protagonists: Nick Exley, a rich, white software developer visiting the country with his wife and young daughter; Vernon Saul, a coloured former cop, who is always looking for an angle to leverage power and opportunities; and Dawn Cupido, an erotic dancer and former meth-head and hooker who owes Vernon for retrieving her daughter from social services. Each character is flawed, but while Exley has lived a so-far charmed life, Vernon and Dawn have been living nightmares from a young age. Smith’s hook is for Exley to join them, his daughter drowning in the sea and his troubled relationship with his wife disintegrating. Vernon, a psychopathic chancer whose go-to solution for every problem is to kill whoever is in the way, inveigles his way into Exley’s life, which rapidly descents into hell – a blur of drink, drugs, lies, coercion and murder. And in Vernon’s wake is Dawn. Smith sets a dark, nasty tone in the first few pages and rarely lets any light into the tale, keeping the pace and tension high throughout. And he brings into sharp contrast the rich enclaves and the grinding poverty and violence of The Flats, and the inability of overstretched services to keep a lid on all the crime. While some of it seems far-fetched – it’s really not clear why the police don’t bring Exley or Vernon in for questioning or take a more active interest in their shenanigans, and there is a plot reliance on Exley’s work – it doesn’t really matter too much. This is like an action-thriller film, with a cartwheeling plot, rather than the considered realism of a police procedural drama. It’s bold, lurid and dark, with vivid characters, and not at all subtle. My main issue was that the denouement was signalled from quite a long way out, and after the noir running throughout felt a little bit of a cop-out. As I’ve said before, the South African tourism board is probably praying for Roger Smith to find his inner Enid Blyton; hardboiled crime readers will happy to take his work as it is.


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