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