- Publisher: Tin Town
- ISBN: B00OZDHKKG
- Published: October 28, 2014
Reading “Man Down” is a bit like slowing down your car to appreciate a particularly gruesome car accident before the authorities get there to cover the bodies and retrieve limbs from the middle of the lane. But, while “Man Down” is an extremely violent and visceral book, it is made compelling by Smith’s fine handling of plot and suspense, and his ability to inject nuance and complexity into a cast of characters that are, for the most part, complete assholes.
“Man Down” tells the story of John and Tanya Turner, and husband and wife who escape the turbulent violence of South Africa’s Johannesburg 1 and transplant to Tuscon, AZ, where they essentially live the “American dream”. John is a successful businessman and Tanya a respected college professor. They also have a daughter, Lucy, who has all the privileges of an upper-middle class upbringing in America.
It’s immediately evident that the Turners’ front-facing appearance is a façade of domestic peace and prosperity, but that precarious act blows apart one morning when three armed men bull their way inside the house to terrorize the Turners. But, as the book progresses, this home invasion transforms from a simple, brutal, and random act to a bloody exclamation point at the end of a study on the inescapability of karma.
From here, Roger Smith uses clean and clipped prose to weave together multiple timelines and character viewpoints ranging from the Arizona home invasion back to John Turner’s sad, sordid, and drug-filled past in South Africa, as well as his fateful criminal collaboration with the dirtiest of dirty Johannesburg cops, Chris Bekker. Smith handles these transitions smoothly and with great pacing. He dribbles out clues and backstory at precise moments to entice the reader to keep going even as the storylines becomes more tragic and morally broken.
Crunch is always hungry. Massive, ruthless, and homeless, he struggles to survive while building a hatred for all around him. He preys on the street’s weakest, while everyone else lies beyond his aimless rage. Until one day he finds a way to punish anyone and everyone. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the way found him … and he has perhaps bitten off more than even he can chew.
And though the subject matter is often bleak, the book draws you forward as it reveals how previous ugly events and spectacularly bad decision making have led each character to their fate. And that fate for many of the characters is … not great. “Man Down” is a violent book that, in places, verges on gory. While the ending works, it requires a bit of fortitude from the reader. This is not a great book for those who have delicate sensibilities.
I’m told that “Man Down” is not a great first book to read from Roger Smith (whoops…), as the novel goes far beyond his normal levels of darkness and violence (which, I’m also told, is considerable). I can’t really speak to that, but I will tell you that you will likely want to read something a bit lighter after getting through “Man Down”. It’s a book that beats you up. I know that it’s hard to spin that comment as praise, but it really is.
Regardless, if you have the stomach and temperament for a well-written, brutal, and occasionally disturbing thriller, then seek out “Man Down”. It’s a mighty fine book. Perhaps it’s not the recommended first book you should read from Roger Smith, but it still convinced me to read more of his work.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
His books have won the German Crime Fiction Award and been nominated for Spinetingler Magazine Best Novel awards. He also writes horror under the pen name Max Wilde.
PUBLISHER: Tin Town
PUBLICATION DATE: October 28, 2014
LENGTH: 279 pages
“Man Down” isn’t a new release; it’s nearly a year old. As much as I enjoy a new release and reviewing books that are ‘top of mind’ in the media, I’ll probably just as often examine books that have shuffled off to the backlist. In this instance, Bracken MacLeod (also a very fine author … read “Mountain Home” and “White Knight”) posted a link to a Kindle sale for Smith’s “Man Down”. Based on MacLeod’s recommendation and the low price, I took a chance on an author I didn’t know from a hole in a wall. It worked out.
- Apparently, this is Roger Smith’s first novel set primarily in America. His other stories are set in South Africa. ↩