Thursday, October 8, 2020

Africa Scene

 Michael - Thursday

For the last eight years, I’ve been writing a monthly piece for the International Thriller Writers monthly emagazine, which rejoices in the rather pretentious title of The Big Thrill. ITW has come under the spotlight recently for its Board's inappropriate reaction to an author’s request to investigate a male author’s harassment at an event. Eventually, perhaps realising it had become out of touch, the entire Board resigned and the organization is in the process of finding new leadership. But that’s a different story.

I took over the articles from Mike Nicol, a long-time advocate and supporter of South African crime fiction and a leading author here. He’d had enough after five years. At that stage, the piece was called Newsletter from South Africa. I felt one should be looking much more widely in Africa, and not only to authors living in Africa, but to authors who write crime fiction about anywhere in Africa even if they live elsewhere. There are many great creators of African mysteries and thrillers in the latter category—Kwei Quartey, Alexander McCall Smith, Malla Nunn immediately come to mind. I was joined by South African author and editor Joanne Hichens and we changed the title to Africa Scene. Joanne had to drop out because of other priorities, but she's coming back on board, and I’m delighted about that. Frankly, I’m worried I might be in a bit of a rut after those eight years, and she won’t allow that!

So the question is, what’s the point? It’s certainly not the money. (There isn’t any.) I think the attraction started with Sunshine Noir—the collection of short stories, edited by Stanley and Annamaria, all set in hot places. Stanley and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir came up with the term, and Sunshine Noir was a sort of tongue in cheek dig at Nordic Noir. A third of those stories are set in Africa. (One of them was short listed for the Crime Writers’ Association Short Story Dagger, as was another set in Singapore.)

Or maybe it was a comment from an editor that books set in Africa and Afghanistan never do well. Then The Kite Runner came along, and that didn't do too badly. There’s such a rich diversity of really good African crime fiction these days, why wouldn’t one want people to know about it and the authors to be more successful?

So each month I take a look at an author and a recent book (and I’ve had a few collections too). All I ask is that the story is largely set in Africa, and that it’s well done. In case you think that doesn't leave a lot of choice, take a look at a few recent examples. The links are to my Africa Scene interviews with the authors.

My Sister the SerialKiller (November 2019). Oyinkan Braithwaite’s debut is an extraordinary novel. The premise is that two sisters are so close that the elder, Korede, covers up the younger’s killings. Initially, Korede believes them to be in self-defence, but eventually is forced to accept that they are actually murders.  It’s a very different take on the usual serial-killer formula, but just as gripping, and gives an original insight into the tortured depth of family ties.

The novel won the LA Times award for best crime thriller of the year, was long listed for the Booker Prize, and short listed for the Women’s Fiction Prize. It got rave reviews in The New York Times, The Sunday Times, and The Guardian. Oyinkan lives and works in Lagos, Nigeria.

Afterland (October2020). Lauren Beukes shot to prominence with The Shining Girls in 2013. It was an international best seller, shortlisted for a slew of prizes including the CWA Gold Dagger (and won some of them), and translated into more than twenty languages. George RR Martin described Lauren as “a major, major talent,” and her new novel illustrates that. Afterland maintains her tradition of a completely new take on a theme. Stephen King called it “splendid” and a “standout.” (Admittedly, this one is a bit of a stretch for me because, although the characters are South African, the book takes place in the US.)

According to Lauren’s bio, “when she’s not travelling for research from Detroit to Zagreb, Port-au-Prince to Antarctica, she lives in Cape Town, South Africa with her daughter and two trouble cats.” I think the cats may have met their match...

Addis Ababa Noir (coming December 2020). Recently, Akashic Books has been focussing on Africa in its City Noir series. We’ve had Lagos Noir, Nairobi Noir and Addis Ababa Noir, with Accra Noir ahead. The stories are diverse and some are stunning. I haven’t been to these cities for many years, but I have an insight into them after reading these collections. Some of the stories are very dark, some almost whimsical. Great writing!

Addis Ababa Noir is edited by Maaza Mengiste, a very serious writer indeed. Her latest novel, The Shadow King, has been short-listed for this year's Booker Prize. Her story Of Dust and Ash in this collection brings you to the heart of the turmoil of Ethiopia’s past in an original, moving, and scary way.

 There are great thrillers and mysteries—novels and short fiction—written everywhere in the world. Enjoy them all. But don’t miss out on Africa!


  1. What wonderful choices, Michael! Vicarious travel is the best we can expect for now!

    1. I fear so... And these are great writers by any country's standards!

  2. Michael, I don't know where you find the time and energy to do all these many things so well. Performance enhancing drugs? Steroids? Nah, my money's on dedication and perspiration.