Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Review of Mixed Blood by Roger Smith (Serpent's Tail, 2009)

A veteran of the Iraq war, Jack Burn has fled the US having taken part in a bank raid in which a cop died. He lands up in an exclusive enclave of Cape Town, South Africa, with his heavily pregnant wife and young son. Their troubles though are only just starting. Just as they are sitting down to eat, two local gangsters looking to commit an opportunistic robbery enter the house. Jack dispatches them with ruthless efficiency. However, Benny Mongrel, the watchman on the building site next door has witnessed the botched robbery, and the vicious, crooked cop, Rudi Barnard, is looking for one of the gangsters. Massively overweight and overbearing, Barnard thinks that he is conducting God's work and dispenses his own brand of justice in the Cape Flats, a vast sprawling suburb of poverty and lawless. His behaviour has attracted the attentions of those wishing to clean-up corruption in the police force; the solution he knows is a large payoff. Whilst Burn disposes of the gangster's bodies, he fails to move their car, thus attracting the attentions of Barnard. And once Barnard gains an inkling of Burn's past, he sees an opportunity to gain the money he needs to buy off his pursuers.

Mixed Blood starts at a nice quick pace and steadily gathers more speed, rattling and twisting along like a rollercoaster by the end. This pace, however, is not at the expense of plot, sense of place or characterisation. Indeed, Smith manages to pack an awful lot into three hundred pages and Mixed Blood is a masterclass in tight, taut and tense writing. Smith perfectly captures the troubled post-Apartheid politics and geography of Cape Town, its racism, poverty, crime and corruption. The characters of Benny Mongrel and Rudi Barnard are very well penned, as are their back stories. The only characters I had trouble buying into were Jack and Susan Burn, who seemed a little shallow and thin. Otherwise, this is a cracker of a story. The Cape Town tourist industry probably won't thank him for his efforts, but anyone who likes noir will thoroughly enjoy this dark tale. I'll certainly be tracking down his other books. One of my discoveries of the year.


Rockman said...

Read his 'Dust Devils' and liked it....guess I should add this to my TBR pile.

Maxine Clarke said...

I read this one recently, too, and enjoyed it a lot. I'll definitely read more from him esp as "Disaster" apparently reappears in Dust Devils.

Mack said...

Disaster has a much larger role in Dust Devils. I believe that Samuel L. Jackson will be playing Disaster in the film adaptation of Mixed Blood. Wake Up Dead is also in development as a feature film.