Jason Chambers: The Three Guys first came across Roger Smith about a year ago, prior to the release of his first novel Mixed Blood. Read the whole conversation, where we all were in agreement, surprisingly enough, about the merits of his writing and this great book, loving the raw violence of the Capetown setting, and throwing around phrases such as “cinematic”, “great genre writing” and, memorably, “ghetto cozy”. Here’s what RS had to say about the books that hooked him:
Roger Smith: I was 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 /AKA Point Blank(1964). I still have it, a dog-eared little paperback with a plain silver cover sporting a bullet hole and a 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 is something to kill for. Over the next thirty-six years Tom (married to the inscrutable Heloise) funds a life of bourgeoisie privilege in the French countryside 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 dumb, sweet, 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 sure as hell aren’t nice, but they’re damned interesting.
BIO: Roger Smith was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and now lives in Cape Town. His debut thriller, Mixed Blood, was published in March 2009 and will be released in paperback by Picador Crime in December. His second book, Wake Up Dead (Henry Holt & Co), is coming in February 2010. The movie version of Mixed Blood is in development – scheduled to start shooting in Cape Town in late 2010 – starring Samuel L. Jackson, with Phillip Noyce directing.