Smith's thriller of Cape Town, South Africa, is as complex as the characters filling its pages with violence, murder and random cruelties. The quasi-hero of the piece is the somewhat likable Jack Burn, a gambling addict who gets caught in a bank robbery gone bad in the States and flees with his pregnant wife, Susan, and four-year-old son, Matt, to an exclusive Cape Town neighborhood.
With a new identity and money in the bank, a dead cop precludes Jack’s ever returning home, so this new life has got to work. So far Susan has accommodated the new situation - until the night two thugs from the Cape Flats barge into the house with guns drawn, mayhem twinkling in their drug-fueled eyes. His family in danger, Jack reacts and the nightmare unfurls.
As Susan nearly loses the baby, an ambulance drives away from the house, two dead bodies behind the dining room door waiting to be buried. Meanwhile, an ex-con security guard with a horribly disfigured face watches the activity from the roof of the unfinished building next door. It’s all downhill from there.
As soon as obese Rudy “Gatsby” Barnard sniffs trouble in the flats, he finds his way to the abandoned car the gang members parked beside Jack’s house. From one violent scene to another, the gang-bangers and junkies clash for a bit of power or the oblivion of tik, selling their souls in the bargain, Gatsby always the benefactor and Jack in the wind.
Smith writes in heart-stopping prose, contrasting the misery of the Cape Flats with the luxury of Cape Town, the two places as though on different planets. One night of random violence and Jack’s careful plan lies in ruins as he is helplessly drawn into the world where Gatsby rules. Filled with desperation and danger, this is a story you can’t put down, stunning in its brutality and the harsh realities of the Flats, where the impoverished and drug-addled feed off of one another and life counts for little.
An innocent child is caught in a net of greed and opportunism, his fate in the hands of a monster who kills with impunity, Jack’s only hope the scar-faced ex-con who witnessed the crime the first night. Fortune smiles on few in this novel, Cape Flats the dark side of the moon.