Written by Roger Smith — Michael Lane has it better than millions of the other sorry souls in South Africa. Or so it would seem. Then one night sex with his wife Beverley is interrupted by a woman’s screams. They’re coming from the pool house on the Lanes’ extensive property where their rugby star son Chris lives. Mike and Bev nip downstairs and find their steroid-pumped son kneeling over a woman whose head has been reduced to a bloody pulp – teeth, bone and brains scattered and splattered on the floor.
All’s not well in the posh Cape Town suburb of Newlands. There is Chris’s rugby career to think of – he’s a Western Province prospect.
So the cover-up begins. Beverley cleans Chris up and she and Michael call the police. There has been an altercation earlier in the evening between their coloured maid Denise Solomons and her son Lyndall. The teenager has started using crystal meth – or tik, as it’s called in the Cape Flats ghettoes where he buys it – and he’s literally tried to hit-up his mother for money. Shouting threats, he was thrown off the property by the Lanes’ private security firm. So Chris Lane tells the police that Lyndall struck him first, then killed the girl.
Michael’s not so sure and the guilt starts to eat away at him, evoking memories of a cover-up Bev orchestrated back when they first met after a road accident. He helped raise Lyndall and his sister Louise, and isn’t particularly close to his own thuggish son, Chris. But he keeps his mouth shut and goes along with Bev’s plan – with a little help from the whiskey bottle.
Loise Solomons makes for an interesting character. Benefitting from Michael Lane’s kindness, she’s been to nice schools and to the University of Cape Town. Louise looks up to Michael, craving his attention and admiring him both for his benevolence and his status. She knows her brother Lyndall is bad news and is very angry with him for assaulting their mother, however she doesn’t think he did it. When Lyndall is brutally by other prisoners while he awaits trial – the victim of some twisted gang and their code of honour – Louise undergoes a change. Meanwhile, Michael Lane’s guilty conscience is dialled up to volume 11 when Louise and Lyndall’s mother Denise dies soon afterwards, of a broken heart.
If you’ve read Roger Smith’s work, you’ll know he writes the darkest sort of noir, and so things only get worse for Michael Lane. He leaves Bev and takes solace in a younger woman. Louise, on the other hand, falls into a deep depression and takes to self harming. After nearly dying, she decides the cure for her illness is to take revenge on the Lane family and starts spying on Michael. Via Lyndall’s death she has come across just the sort of mean dog character who can help her out.
Smith brings us uncomfortably close to his main characters, describing everything they think and experience. The gore, vomit, sweat and rot are all detailed in tight, almost dispassionate prose. Lane and Louise are opened out for you, for good or ill. Both are wronged. Both do wrong. You’ll find the book quite a moral labyrinth as you root for one or other of them, then realise they have actually been utterly immoral and doesn’t deserve your support. Smith’s skill throughout is to bring you within touching distance of his creations without it ever feeling too claustrophobic.
And let’s not forget, this is Cape Town, South Africa. One of the most beautiful cities in the world, blighted by a terrible, rising crime rate. The author evokes the wonderful scenery – the beaches, the gardens, Table Mountain – juxtaposing it with the dark and depressing undercurrents of the storyline. As in previous stories, like Capture, the racial tensions and differences between the wealthy and the impoverished cast another shadow across an already dark situation.
Perceptive, bloody, gut-wrenching and hard to take, Sacrifices is another brilliantly crafted piece of South African noir from Roger Smith. I’m going to need a while to recover.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars