Thursday, July 1, 2010

The best African-set crime?

Right now, the attention of the world is turned Africa's way, with the biggest sporting event on the planet, the FIFA World Cup, being played there for the first time. Messi, Torres, Rooney, Ronaldo, Villa, Robben, Robinho - big name superstars have been battling it out on the sporting world's greatest stage (some performing better than others), and other lesser-known players of quality are also stepping up, and being noticed, and lauded.

But while sport is the reason for the South African focus right now, many mystery-loving readers know that the country, and the wider continent, can produce some pretty damned good crime fiction too. And like the sports world, this literary one also has its 'superstars', as well as a growing list of high quality 'performers' that are moving from lesser-known to noticed, and lauded. Some have even been saying that South Africa could be the 'new Scandinavia' when it comes to crime fiction. High praise indeed.

So it was with interest that I read an online piece in The Guardian this week, where Michael Stanley (the pen name of the crime-writing tag-team of retired South African-born professors Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip - pictured left) picked a 'top 10' African-set crime novels. Stanley of course is the author(s) of Botswana-set mysteries starring food-loving Detective "Kubu" Bengu (A CARRION DEATH, A DEADLY TRADE).

"Ever since we started writing detective stories set in Africa ... we've paid more attention to the many wonderful mysteries set on the continent," say Sears and Trollip. "Some of the writers were born in Africa, others not. Some are oldies, but others are contemporary, reflecting the surge of mystery writers interested in Africa. The 10 books we've chosen all capture some aspect of African culture or location."

Sears and Trollip talk about each book and why they choose it in some detail in the article, which you can read in full here, but for the moment, here's their list of the 10 best African-set books:
  1. Murder at Government House by Elspeth Huxley
  2. Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
  3. Song Dog by James McClure
  4. Instruments of Darkness by Robert Wilson
  5. The Screaming of the Innocent by Unity Dow
  6. The Mission Song by John Le Carré
  7. Devils Peak by Deon Meyer
  8. Blood Rose by Margie Orford
  9. Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey
  10. Zulu by Caryl Férey
Of those books, I've only read DEATH ON THE NILE thusfar, although I have been meaning to read Deon Meyer, because I have heard so many good things about his crime writing. I've also got a different Margie Orford book, LIKE CLOCKWORK on my TBR pile (my third African-set book for Dorte Jakobsen's fantastic 2010 Global Reading Challenge).
So what do you think of Michael Stanley's list? How many have you read? What other African crime novels have you read? Which would you recommend? Are there any glaring omissions from the list? Thoughts and comments appreciated.


  1. Thank you for posting this list. I have not really embarked on Africa yet, but I have added the post to the links of the Global Reading Challenge.

  2. Craig thanks for your post. I'm very much on your camp. I've only read the Agatha Christie book on the list, have two Deon Meyer's books to-read and have read another one by Margie Orford, LIKE CLOCKWORK. Have also read A CARRION DEATH and plan to-read BAIT by Nick Brownlee as my third Africa book in Dorte's Challenge. Might also gibe Yasmina Khadra another try, I've read THE ATTACK but I understand his early ones are much better.

  3. Craig I have read two different Deon Meyer books and they are very good. [Blood Safari and Thirteen Hours]
    James McClure, I read back in the 1970s but not that one.
    Of course I have read Death on the Nile, my favourite Christie.
    Robert Wilson's books set in Spain [Javier Falcon series] and his Small Death in Lisbon are brilliant so I expect his African books will be of a similar standard.
    I can also recommend Yasmina Khadra's books set in Algeria. I must try Maggie Orford as the reports are good, and "Michael Stanley" who I had planned to meet up with at Crime Fest.

  4. Craig - Thanks for this list. I haven't read all of the entries on the list, but I do like the ones I have read. I'm going to have to read the article you linked to in more depth, because I'm wondering why Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency isn't on the list? Hmm...

    Funny thing, too. Right now I'm reading an Africa-based novel called Random Violence, which was Jassy MacKenzie's debut. I'm enjoying it thus far...

  5. Roger Smith's books, Mixed Blood and Wake Up Dead, would be first on my list.

  6. What a good idea for a list. I have read DEVILS PEAK and it made my top ten list for books read in 08 and DEATH ON THE NILE is my favourite Agatha Christie novel so I definitely concur with that one being on the list. I haven't read any of the others but WIFE OF THE GODS is in my TBR pile and I will be reading it soon for the global challenge.

    I would also add Malla Nunn's A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE, the first of Alexander McCall Smith's series THE NO. 1 LADIES DETECTIVE AGENCY (it's very evocative of Botswana) and would throw in Sears & Trollip's own A CARRION DEATH which I read earlier this year.

  7. Can Alexander McCall Smith's series set in Botswana be included in the Global Book Challenge requirement for Africa?

  8. I imagine so Kathy. I understand from Dorte that it's the setting that matters, rather than the nationality of the author. It's up to participants whether they want to add their own wrinkles to their challenge, eg. only reading authors from that country, or trying to read plenty of translated fiction etc.