Potted book reviews – part 2

Whilst in Thailand recently I did quite a lot of reading. Here are a few reviews of books that I hadn’t read previously. Continued from part 1 of last week.

Dust Devils by Roger Smith
Dust Devils is the first work I have read by Roger Smith, but I guarantee you that it won’t be the last. Set in South Africa; it involves a journalist being framed for a murder he didn’t commit; a truly vicious killer who actually commits the murder (in addition to many others); the father of the journalist, a former soldier-for-hire, and a fairly vicious killer himself, who wants to repent for his past sins; in addition to several other character storylines. I don’t really want to give too much away, because if I do it will spoil the pleasure of reading what I think is one of the finest novels I’ve read in any genre this year. The characters are all beautifully honed by Smith’s pared down but incisive prose; and in Inja Mazibuko he has created one of the finest villains that I have come across in recent memory. Things you might expect to happen between characters (especially if we were working with Hollywood cliches) don’t happen, partly because Smith gives his character’s real motivations rather than the kind that are used simply to propel plot. Dust Devils crackles along quickly and, despite a fairly complicated set of storylines and plot strands, never once loses its footing. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Under the Bright Lights by Daniel Woodrell
When a black businessman and political hotshot is murdered in his home, Detective Rene Shade is ordered to investigate it as a burglary/homicide, rather than stir up racial unrest in the fictional city of St Bruno, Louisiana. But Shade isn’t one to do as he’s told, so sets out to solve the case. The killing of a porn theater leads Shade to believe that the two incidents might be linked. Shade’s investigation is helped and hindered by various characters including his boss, who kowtows to politicians who don’t want the case to be solved,  a cynical and overweight partner, and his two brothers, one a lawyer concerned with his own political career, and the other the owner of a local bar, which also happens to be a stamping ground for criminal types – several of whom are involved in the case in one way or another. As things progress and bodies start to pile up, the chase leads Shade to a final showdown in the Bayou. UTBL is the first of the Rene Shade trilogy of novels that kicked off Woodrell’s career. It is superbly written and tightly plotted, though lacks the poetic language of his later work A Winter’s Bone. The relationships between the characters seem real and, despite being fictional, St Bruno seems like a character in itself. It is a work of real quality and comes highly recommended.

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