Friday, 19 April 2013



Ishmael Toffee's knife put him behind bars and kept him there for twenty years as a prison gang assassin until he lost his taste for blood. Paroled, he finds himself with no money and no family. And no knife in his hand.

He gets a job as a gardener at the luxurious home of a prominent lawyer and makes an unexpected friend--Cindy, the lawyer's six-year-old daughter. When Ishmael discovers that Cindy is being raped by her father he must choose: abandon the girl and walk away, or do what he does best . . .

A gut-wrenching novella of violence and redemption from the award-winning author of DUST DEVILS, WAKE UP DEAD and MIXED BLOOD.

This is the second time I’ve tasted Roger Smith’s violent prose, after reading the excellent Mixed Blood late last year. Mixed Blood was my favourite book of November 2012, so I’ve been meaning to get back to Mr Smith for some time.

Another excellent offering from him time around, though I would hazard that Roger isn’t flavour of the month with the Cape Town tourist board. I wouldn’t be over-keen  to visit the city or even the country based on what I’ve read from Smith and his fellow SA scribes, Deon Meyer and Mike Nicol.

Despite the abolition of apartheid in South Africa there are still divisions and fractures in the country today. The divide seems to be more a matter of economics .......the haves v. the have nots.....though surely a lot of that must be as a result of the previous racial politics that disadvantaged whole generations of black and mixed race people; forcing them into an underclass ghetto lifestyle that it will take more than a vote to cure.    

In Ishmael Toffee, we have a protagonist who is a product of his environment. Illiterate and impoverished, attracted into a life of gang violence for which he has been serving hard time in Pollsmoor. Sick of his past actions he has turned away from violence to a more productive peaceful life inside, growing plants in the prison garden.

Now out on parole, Toffee is given an opportunity as a gardener for a rich, white lawyer Goddard. Ishmael with his jailhouse, gang tattoos and his ghetto stink and dirty clothes is viewed disdainfully by Goddard’s black housekeeper. Goddard’s 6 year old daughter is more engaging, gradually befriending Ishmael, over-coming her shyness to confide that she is being abused by her father – abuse that the housekeeper is trying to exploit for her own advantage.

Ishmael tries to help Cindy without resorting to the violence of his past. This admirable aim is quickly compromised and his redemption can only be realised in the eyes of a little girl, and by recourse to his previous behaviour.

Overall I really enjoyed it. It moved quickly as a well-written 100-odd page book/novella should. There were no major surprises, I felt as the tale unfolded. So whilst there was an element of predictability about the outcome, as soon as the abuse became apparent I enjoyed it nonetheless. Not quite as much as I enjoyed his full length work though.

4 from 5

I bought this on Amazon earlier this year.



  1. Col - I'm glad you thought this was well-done. Smith really is violently realistic about life in Cape Town and in other places in South Africa too. But the stories really are so well done, with complicated and interesting characters. If you do like Smith, may I recommend Dust Devils? here is my analysis of it if you're interesting.

    1. Margot, That's a great piece you've done on Dust Devils. For me Smith is turning into a must-read author.
      I'd probably enjoy reading his shopping list!

  2. Col, you do have me interested in this author. Normally, I would say this is too gritty for my tastes, and checking out Margot's piece on Dust Devils, still sounds that way. But both of you make his writing sound good and I do want to read more about different countries. I will be on the lookout for books by this author.

    1. Tracy, I think gritty is right, but if you can I'd check out at least one of his books. It might be to your liking, if it isn't we'll blame Margot!