SMITH HAS A SENSE OF PLACE TO WHICH EV­ERY AU­THOR SHOULD AS­PIRE

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Adrian d’Hage’s new novel is The Inca Prophecy.

rand, or the el­e­gance of the races at Mil­ner­ton in Cape Town. We care what hap­pens to him. I first read Smith as a staff cadet at the Royal Mil­i­tary Col­lege, Dun­troon, in the 1960s. When I left the mil­i­tary af­ter a ca­reer that spanned jun­gle fight­ing in Viet­nam to head­ing de­fence counter-ter­ror­ism plan­ning for the Syd­ney Olympics, I turned to writ­ing — and I im­me­di­ately dis­cov­ered how dif­fi­cult it is to cap­ture Smith’s sense of place. He lives and breathes South Africa and he in­spired me to travel to the places I take my read­ers, such as the rocky deserts near Qum­ran out­side Jerusalem ( The Omega Scroll), a hot-zone lab­o­ra­tory in west­ern China ( The Bei­jing Syn­drome) the mist-shrouded jun­gles of Guatemala ( The Maya Codex) and, in my lat­est novel, The Inca Prophecy, Lake Como, one of the deep­est and most stun­ning lakes in Europe. (I know what you are think­ing, but some­one has to do the re­search!) Be­sides a sense of place and depth of char­ac­ter, a good novel must have pace, and here Smith is a master. When the Lion Feeds im­merses the reader in the bat­tles for claims in the gold­fields where ‘‘ bul­lets spanged off the ma­chin­ery, leav­ing bright scars where they struck’’, and the cut and thrust of the trad­ing floor of the Jo­han­nes­burg Stock Ex­change, where Sean’s for­tune is wiped out in a trap laid by his ri­val, the du­plic­i­tous Norman Hrad­sky:

‘‘ Sell an­other thirty thou­sand,’’ Sean or­dered his clerk and even to him­self his voice sounded wheezy . . . ‘‘ Some­one’s buy­ing up,’’ mut­tered Sean un­easily.

Even Sean’s tem­pes­tu­ous love af­fair with Ka­t­rina is not with­out its twists and turns as ‘‘ one in­stant she lay un­der the shock of his touch and then her con­vul­sive heave caught him by sur­prise’’.

Most writ­ers have one or two ‘‘ men­tors’’, au­thors they look up to and try to learn from, and Smith, who at 79 still pro­duces a new novel ev­ery cou­ple of years, cer­tainly was one of mine. It’s hard to say whether I would have turned to writ­ing had I not been en­thralled by Smith (and oth­ers), but I will be happy if I can be half as good. Which of course will be for oth­ers to judge.

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