Review – Ishmael Toffee by Roger Smith

One of my real pleasures in life is finding a new author (new to me, that is) whose work I enjoy as much as the old masters. Discovering the novels of South African author Roger Smith was just one of those occasions. Dust Devils was the easily one of the finest books I read during 2011 (not an easy feat, considering I polished off quite a few novels that year), and it was definitely one of those that stayed with me long after I’d finished the final page.

So once I knew that his latest, Ishmael Toffee, was available on Kindle I decided to download it asap. Let’s just say it’s not a decision I regretted.

The story involves an ex-gang killer Ishmael Toffee who has murdered more men with a knife than he cares to remember, but has since lost the appetite for killing. Whilst in prison, he discovers that he is good at something else other than killing – gardening, which comes in handy when he is released. Once out of prison, he becomes a gardener for a rich white lawyer and strikes up an unlikely friendship with the man’s young daughter, who treats Ishmael as a human being rather than as a prisoner. When Ishmael discovers that the girl is being abused by her father, he decides to go on the run with her and get justice through the system. But when that fails, he realises that he has to go back to the knife…

Ishmael Toffee introduces and humanizes a character who in the wrong hands could have come off as a real piece of shit. He’s a villain who has realised that his previous existence is no longer what he wants and chooses the quiet life instead and turns himself into a regular human being. He becomes a hero the moment he chooses to help a girl who can’t help herself, and makes us root for him. And he becomes tragic when he sees that the South African system is weighted in the favour of rich white men and that the one thing he wanted to avoid is the only thing that can save the girl…

Ishmael Toffee is another superb piece of writing from an author who is fast establishing himself as one of the best around. It is beautifully paced, covers a dark topic with a certain amount of sensitivity and is populated with fully rounded human beings. It is a cracking read and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

And Falling, the free short story at the end, is a cracker, too. Another direct hit for Roger Smith!