Thursday, June 9, 2011

Dust Devils by Roger Smith

Dust Devils in Kindle format from Amazon
Dust Devils in Nook format from Barnes and Noble
YouTube video trailer for Dust Devils

UPDATE: Africa Book Club has an excellent interview with Roger.

Robert Dell, an unemployed, left leaning, South African journalist, has been framed for a horrendous crime he did not commit. He finds an unlikely rescuer in his estranged father, Bobby Goodbread, an American newly released from prison. Bobby couldn't be more different from his son. He was a CIA agent who found he had a lot in common with South Africa's approach to combating insurgency and served his time for crimes committed as a leader of a government death squad. Goodbread still has his sources and he and Dell strike out across the veldt on a mission of revenge, heading to a dusty, impoverished town near Durban where Inja Mazibuko, killer, warlord, and cause of Dell's problems, rules. Disaster Zondi, last seen in Mixed Blood is on his way as well. Disaster is looking for the story behind a mysterious fax of a wedding announcement of a very young girl and Inja.

Roger's earlier books, Mixed Blood and Wake Up Dead, are set in Cape Town and focus on Cape Flats, gangs, drugs, and prison culture. With Dust Devils, he moves the action to the KwaZulu-Natal province. Besides the location change, this book marks a change in direction for Roger as a writer. He has broadened his scope to issues affecting all of South Africa. I think you see his feelings coming through, his anger, fear, and frustration at the path his country is on after the promise of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu: government challenges to a free press; a disastrous AIDS policy that promoted garlic and showers instead of retro-virals; the superstition that sex with virgins will cure AIDS; widespread corruption at all levels including a police commissioner sentenced to 15 years in prison; a crime rate that makes South Africa one of the most violent countries in the world; and the same people who suffered under apartheid, still suffering.

Readers of Roger's previous books need not fear that he is moving away from the visual style, action, and skillful use of graphic violence that we appreciated in Mixed Blood and Wake Up Dead. By the end of the second chapter I'd already had one "My God!" moment. And Roger's description of the town of Bhambatha's Rock had me choking and itching in equal measure. That Bhambatha's Rock is based on real locations makes it sobering reading. In Inja Mazibuko, Roger has created his "best" bad guy. Where Piper from Wake Up Dead is flat out scary, Mazibuko is pure evil. His crimes are all the worse because his political allegiance reflects what is wrong in South Africa today. Opposing Inja is Disaster Zondi, another reflection of the problems facing the country. Mixed Blood shows us a cool and dapper Zondi, supremely competent and confident. Here, Zondi is disillusioned and dispirited by the corruption he experiences, corruption embodied in Mazibuko and Mazibuko's political boss.

There is always something in Roger's books that sends me off on a research quest. This time it is the CIA involvement in the war South Africa waged in Angola and the possibility that the CIA was involved in the arrest of Nelson Mandela. This has never been proven and Mandela himself said that his capture was due to carelessness but there appears to be anecdotal evidence of CIA involvement. Do a Google search on

Mandela CIA arrest

Fascinating reading.

This is Roger's best work and I admire his decision to broaden his vision while preserving the aspects that built his readership. It promises many more interesting reads.

Note on the location relevant to the story:
KwaZulu means "Place of the Zulu".
The Afrikaner Voortrekkers defeated the Zulus at The Battle of Blood River in 1838 and established the Republic of Natal.
The Battle of Rorke's Drift and Battle of Isandlwana between British forces and the Zulu occurred in this area.
In 2009, KwaZulu-Natal had the highest rate of HIV infection in South Africa's provinces.