First sentence: "The night they were hijacked, Roxy Palmer and her husband, Joe, ate dinner with an African cannibal and his Ukrainian whore."
And for Roxy, it's all downhill here from there. Driven by an anger she didn't know she possessed, she makes a decision that sets in motion a chain of events that leaves blood and body parts strewn across Cape Town as a string of deadly characters enter her life: There's the mercenary, Billy Africa, who wants the money Joe owed him. There are the two low-level gangbangers who are after Roxy for a lot more than the Mercedes Benz they took the night of the hijacking. The prison escapee who is determined to reunite with his "wife," one of the gangbangers. The cop, Eddie Maggott, who's after Roxy because he thinks she had more to do with the hijacking than she's admitted. The Ukrainian whore is lusting after the designer contents of Roxy's closet, and her cannibal friend wants to get back some money he turned over to Joe just before the hijacking. And out on the fringes is a murderous drug dealer who's after the gangbangers for reasons of his own. Roxy would gladly give up the money to save her life and get the hell out of Dodge, but there's just one problem. She's stone broke.
Wake Up Dead is not for the faint of heart. No, seriously. If you think Hannibal Lector is as bad as it gets, walk away now. But if you like a thriller that rides like a rocket, if you like unsympathetic characters that get under your skin like a dirty needle, stop reading this and go get a copy of this book right now. Me? Loved it. Loved it. This is a dark, brutal, and altogether satisfying thriller.
Part of the wonder that is Wake Up Dead, is that Smith works in backstory for each of his characters without any slowdown in the pace, enabling the reader to see motive and emotion behind the actions of even the most vile and irredeemable monster. When the motives and emotions morph into action, the characters become human bumper cars, slamming into and caroming off each other with no regard for life or any of the finer human attributes such as compassion and mercy.
In simple, evocative prose Smith reveals the appalling underbelly of Cape Town with its racism, its sharp division between the haves and the have-nots, and the systematic tolerance of illegal drugs that allows for the sweeping under the rug of human life when it is not white and moneyed. And Smith exposes it all without any pedantry or patronization or rallying cry to a cause. He simply hands the reader a photograph, that's all. One that definitely won't lure the reader into daydreams of traveling through the tourist-friendly geographic and ethnic realms of wondrous African beauty; no, the Cape Flats is a place where you're more likely to Wake Up Dead. In fact, Roger Smith may just be a one-man wrecking crew for the South African tourist industry. But don't be surprised if he becomes a pillar of support for the South African publishing industry.
Here's a brief excerpt in which mercenary Billy Africa has just arrived back in Cape Town from Iraq:
Billy's journey down memory lane was interrupted when a car sped out of Vulture Street -- Dark City side -- nearly collecting him before it shot off down Main. It was a new BMW 7 series, sporting extras like fat tires, louvers, mud flaps, and a feature that definitely didn't come standard: a man tied to the rear bumper by his ankle, bouncing as he was dragged, leaving a strawberry smear on the dusty blacktop.
On the sidewalk a group of schoolkids, in the grip of the munchies after visiting their dealer, bought cotton candy from a one-legged simpleton. The kids pointed at the Beemer. Laughing fit to puke. The simpleton danced on his good limb -- empty trouser leg flapping -- clapping and whistling through his missing front teeth, enjoying the free entertainment.
Whoever said there's no place like home had got it one hundred percent fucken right.