“Night was coming in like an animal stalking the day.”This sentence perfectly describes the range and tenor of Smith’s second riveting South African thriller following Mixed Blood, where a random act in Cape Town leaks into the neighboring Cape Flats, a series of actions mired in escalating violence until a final, brilliant conflict that levels the playing field for a new set of players.
The catalyst is the transference of funds from a now-respectable businessman (a former cannibal seeking power in his home country) to a disreputable businessman, Joe Palmer. The two have had a successful night out on the town, all their plans in place. Now Joe lies dead in his driveway, his Mercedes convertible with the money inside disappearing into the Flats.
Once we’re in the nightmarish neighborhood of the Flats, the characters become more deadly, from crudely-tattooed gang members to tik addicts, an alcoholic doctor who straddles the territory of two rival gangs and sells assorted body parts for the ritual of muti, returning mercenary Billy Afrika, who finds his money long gone, handsome punk Disco, and his still-incarcerated lover, Piper.
A criminal mutant so distorted by his crimes that all he can focus on is Disco, his “wife,” Piper is content in a system that has no death penalty, the outrageousness of his crimes building an awe-inspiring reputation on the street. And when Billy Afrika, who has a bad history with Piper, decides that the way to his money rests in the hands of Joe Palmer’s widow, Roxy, the dominoes start falling.
Dealers, murderers, a gang culture riddled with death and drugs, Smith captures it all, the horrors of everyday life in the Flats, where monsters stalk the streets and the innocent are flattened by crime. Nobody notices the mayhem in Paradise Park, but when someone starts decapitating blondes near Cape Town’s oceanfront, the so-called “Barbie” murders get everyone’s attention, even Piper’s.
Piper breaks out of prison in search of Disco and a swath of violence is unleashed that will end up in a confrontation with Billy Afrika and a gang war, Roxy caught in the middle, amazed that she has so far survived the carnage. The same can’t be said for others - Ernie Maggott, the cop, Doc, Popeye, Teeth, a gang of miscreants who live in a constant state of inebriation, violence at every turn, death etched on their faces.
The images are stark, brutal and real, Smith battering the pages with the bloody details of a neighborhood drenched in despair, a blade of shattered glass turned into a weapon, a flashing knife in Piper’s deft hands, a long overdue reckoning.