Roger Smith: Criminal Mind
Today we get to hear from Roger Smith. Roger is a South African crime writer with a very big international following which I guess kind of makes him an international writing guest here onthe site! Roger was born in Johannesburg and now lives in Cape Town. His debut thriller, Mixed Blood (2009), was published in six countries and won the Deutscher Krimi Preis (German Crime Prize). His second book, Wake Up Dead (2010), was a 10 best pick of the Philadelphia Enquirer, Times (South Africa) and Krimiwelt (Germany) and was nominated for the German Krimi-Blitz Reader’s Award. Mixed Blood and Wake Up Dead were nominated for Spinetingler Magazine New Voice Awards in the U.S. and both books are in development as feature films. His third book, Dust Devils, is published internationally in 2011.
Roger is busy finishing his fourth book which is due out around July/August and has also promised us a piece around the new book later in the year.
Visit Roger’s web site at www.rogersmithbooks.com
BOOKS THAT MADE ME TURN TO CRIME
I started reading American crime fiction long before I started shaving, but it was a book by Richard Stark (the pseudonym of Donald E. Westlake) that really turned my head: The Hunter (1964). I still have it, a dog-eared little paperback with a plain silver cover sporting a bullet hole and the one-liner: a novel of violence. A tight piece of gutter existentialism – lean as a Brazilian supermodel – it follows Parker (no first name, no morals, precious little backstory) an ex-con out of prison and out for revenge. A sawed-off shotgun of a book.
My next major influence was Elmore Leonard, whose slangy, street-smart parables have been imitated by many – including Quentin Tarantino – but never equaled. The world of fiction would have been immeasurably poorer without his incredible input, and he continues to produce brilliant novels well into his eighties. It’s tough to pick out one Leonard, but I think Glitz (1985) ushered in more than a decade of classics. It is Leonard at his best: a multi-viewpoint narrative that moves like hell. Great dialogue (of course), a tough-but-vulnerable hero, a sick and nasty villain, with a good-looking woman thrown in. Is there anybody out there who wouldn’t kill to be able to write as effortlessly as this?
No crime collection is complete without Patricia Highsmith’s five Tom Ripley books (spanning 1955 – 1991) featuring the most seductive anti-hero series fiction has ever produced, starting with The Talented Mr Ripley. Forget about the limp movie version, and read this deadpan amorality tale from the fabulously understated Highsmith. Young Tom, struggling to make a living in NYC, is chosen by the wealthy Herbert Greenleaf to retrieve his son, Dickie, from Italy. Ripley insinuates himself into Dickie’s world and soon finds that his passion for a lifestyle of wealth and sophistication transcends moral compunction. Over the next thirty-six years Tom marries the inscrutable Heloise, and lives a life of bourgeoisie privilege in the French countryside, funding their lifestyle with art forgery, blackmail and murder.
Whenever anybody trots out the old saw that protagonists have to be sympathetic, I point them in the direction of Jim Thompson’s string of dark and subversive novels. My favorite is The Killer Inside Me (1952). The unreliable narrator, Lou Ford, is a small-town sheriff who appears to be a sweet, dumb, hayseed: “I’ve stood looking nice and friendly and stupid, like I wouldn’t piss if my pants were on fire. And all the time I’m laughing myself sick inside. Just watching the people.” Ford is a cunning, complex, madman, who plays cat and mouse with the world. Fighting a nearly-constant urge to act violently, an urge Ford describes as the sickness. A Thompson classic. His characters aren’t nice, but they’re damn interesting.