A predictable, disappointing read

2011-02-16 00:00

THE larger-than-life fraudster Brett Kebble has spawned a thousand theories about his death, a botched trial, and an excellent investigative book by Barry Sargent. Now comes a sort of a novel whose hero’s life follows the same trajectory as that of Kebble.

Since the outcome of the story is already known, there’s not much more to say. The eponymous hero grows up in a working-class home on the Reef, does well at school and goes on to do law at Wits. He graduates and gets in bed with some corporate crooks, and one thing leads to another and bang.

One guesses that the author has taken his half-written memoirs off the shelf, fictionalised aspects of his life to fit the Kebble story, and found a tame publisher to print the result.

Smith’s depiction of student politics in the 80s, recalling the names of some prominent white activists in particular, has the authenticity of direct experience and has some nostalgic value. He’s also strong, because of his legal background, when describing how the fraudulent house of cards is built up, even if one’s eyes glaze over at some of the detail.

But beyond these aspects there is little to redeem Mettle, and especially not the writing. The odd chapters on South African history are particularly grating for a local audience, adding nothing to the story and appearing to be aimed at nothing more than puffing up a flimsy story into something grander.

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