Thursday, October 6, 2011

Short Fiction of Roger Smith

Photo by Dieter Losskarn from the author's web site
You are familiar with Roger from his gritty South African crime novels Mixed Blood, Wake Up Dead, and Dust Devils but you might not realize that he also has a deft hand with the short story. I only know of two but I hope he will occasionally toss one our way between novels.

The first I encountered was Ishmael Toffee which was printed in the December/January issue of The Big Issue. You can read it here on the Crime Beat blog. The story comes in at 2,245 words and Roger makes every one count. Lean, sharp edged prose.

Ishmael Toffee was a killer who got tired of killing:
Killing always came easy to Ishmael Toffee. From when he was old enough to hold a knife he stuck people dead. Killing sent him to prison and kept him there. When you good at killing you don’t get no rest. Then one day he just didn’t want to do it no more.
On parole from Pollsmoor Prison, Ishmael is doing day labor working in the yard of a house in a wealthy suburb of Cape Town. He is drawn into an action that might just show that there is a spark of humanity left in him, a chance of redemption.

I can't say much more about the story but read it and tell me what you think. It stands on its own as a short story but could be the seed of a novel.

A short story by Roger is included in The Crime Factory: The First Shift, a recent collection of stories from the folks who produce the online Crime Factory Magazine. I will take a look at the whole book later but for now I want to highlight Roger's story.

With Half-Jack Roger fills in a bit more about what we know of Disaster Zondi. This is the Disaster from the time of Mixed Blood, the elegant, cultured Disaster far removed from the mud hut in which he was born. Disaster has much to occupy him: his job as a special investigator for the public prosecutor, clothes, music, expensive alcohol, and an apparently inexhaustible supply of blondes "drawn to his blackness." But Disaster has an emptiness inside him, explored in Dust Devils, and early in the morning, in a moment of inattentive musings, he falls victim to two of Jo'burg predators, car jackers. Zondi knows his chances of survival would be slim at best but non-existent when the jackers find out he is a cop. These jackers aren't bright, even by the low standards of this breed of scavenger, but they have the guns and Disaster doesn't have many options to avoid a bullet in the brain.

If you enjoy Roger's novels, you'll feel right at home with this short story. It has the dark, edgy, noir feel of his longer fiction compressed into a tightly written stand-alone.

Here's the first paragraph:
When the gunmen come at Disaster Zondi, he's lost in one of Erik Satie's intricate piano pieces, the faint, musky tang of the blonde whose bed he's just left still rising from his fingers as they play imaginary scales  on the wheel of the idling Beemer.
The Crime Factory started in 2000, closed in 2003, and was resurrected in 2009. It features hardboiled and noir fiction, new and established authors, and non-fiction on the genre. The Crime Factory: The First Shift is available for the Kindle and Nook so there's no reason not to start reading it now.