Sunday, August 12, 2012

Capture by Roger Smith

6 people. On the high of the economic scale is Nick Exley, his wife Caroline, and four year old daughter Sunny. At the other end is Dawn Cupido and her mixed-race daughter Brittany. Connecting the two families is Vernon Saul, a former Cape Town police detective now working for Sniper Security after two bullets left him with a crippled leg.

Exley, an American, has developed an affordable motion capture system which he is marketing in South Africa. Caroline finds his use of the system to capture his daughter in life-like animation on each of her birthdays creepy. But Caroline has a severe psychological disorder that emerged after the birth of Sunny that has left her increasingly hostile toward Nick and indifferent to her daughter.

Dawn is an ex-hooker and former tik (meth) addict. Brittany is the product of a drug addled moment of unprotected sex with a white john. For his own reasons, Vernon got her out of the life, her daughter back from social services, and a job as a stripper at Lips, a raunchy bar on Voortrekker Street. The other performers see Dawn as uppity since she won't smoke tik and won't turn tricks with the customers. She doesn't want to lose her daughter — her only reason for living — to the system again.

Vernon decides that it would be interesting to bring these families together just for the pleasure of manipulating people in terrible situations. How Vernon pulls this off can't be described without major plot spoilers so you'll just have to read the book. I can say three things: if you've read Roger's other books, you know you can expect bad things to happen to good people; Roger is a master at depicting evil; and little Brittany is very perceptive when she refers to Vernon and Uncle Vermin.

Capture is different from Roger's other works. He has always achieved a good balance between character and action but Capture is more character driven and more of a psychological thriller than an action crime story.

  • Dawn is the strongest female character Roger has written. Beaten but not broken, she is fiercely protective of Brittany and determined to keep her away from Cape Flats and the horrific abuse she suffered as a child. She is with Billy Afrika (Wake Up Dead) and Ishmael Toffee as my Roger Smith favorite characters.
  • Vernon is himself a product of Cape Flats and the victim of a childhood that can only be described as tortured. He is a different sort of villain for Roger. Knowing what happened to happened to him as a child, can the reader find any sympathy for a stone-cold killer and psychopathic manipulator. The reader is constantly wondering what is Vernon up to, why is he doing this. You never get entirely inside his head but watching his actions unfold has disturbing a fascination.
  • Caroline is a danger to herself and family and suffering from a postpartum psychosis that has her hating her family and seeking relief with an out of character lover.
  • Nick is the closest to normal of the adults in the story. A bewildered geek who gets caught up in a madman's manipulations and pushed beyond anything he thought he was capable of.

Capture is the least violent of Roger's novel but it is the most raw in language and explicit sex. I should warn sensitive readers that there are scenes that made me, a hardened reader of crime fiction, want to scrub myself with hot water and lye soap. At the same time, Roger doesn't write extreme scenes without reason and here the sex and language are essential to the characters. Anything less would be to sanitize the story.

Alert readers will notice that the company Vernon works for, Sniper Security, has figured into other stories, such as Mixed Blood. Also, Doc from Wake Up Dead, makes an appearance. Doc is one of my favorite minor characters, a "small, flabby man in his sixties, with a bald head and skin the color of piss." He is a disgusting excuse for a human being who "earns his living dealing in guns, sewing up gangbangers, and chopping body parts supplied to him by cops from the police morgue, selling  the bits off to the darkies for witchcraft." He lives on the edge of the dump featured in Ishmael Toffee.

Capture strips its characters to the bone in a raw, emotional, intimate psychological thriller. It is one of my top books of 2012 and I highly recommend it.