The bitter legacy of apartheid

2011-08-03 00:00

ROGER Smith is one of the rising stars of the South African crime-writing scene, and in Mixed Blood he has ­produced another pacey and violent thriller, featuring his occasional hero, Special Investigator Disaster Zondi.

The story opens, arrestingly enough, with Jack Burn, a fugitive American bank-robber who is hiding out in a plush Cape Town suburb, unexpectedly finding himself the intended victim of a random gangland break-in. In the ensuing scuffle, he manages to overpower and kill his would-be assailants, which leaves him with the problem of how to dispose of the bodies without drawing attention to himself.

Unbeknownst to him, the incident has been witnessed by Benny Mongrel, a disfigured ex-convict who has turned his back on his criminal past, and now works as a security guard on a neighbouring property. With his history, Mongrel has no intention of allowing himself to ­become involved, but this ­be-comes ­increas-ingly difficult to do when Rudy ‘Gatsby’ Barnard, ­a cruel and corrupt Afrikaner cop who has somehow survived from the old order and still treats the former townships as his personal kingdom, gets a whiff of what is going on, and senses that there could be a possible pay-off for him.

What unfolds thereafter is a potently involving and deftly evolving story that opens up a frightening vista into a Cape Town that exists beyond the tourist brochures. At times both dark and menacing, Smith portrays a city riddled with paradox, where conflicting realities – extreme wealth and poverty, beauty and squalor — co-exist; a city that has still not been able to disentangle itself from the bitter legacy of apartheid.

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