Our sunshine noir author for December is ... Mike Nicol
A new month calls for a Q&A with a sunshine noir author sending shivers down the spines of local thriller fans. This December, Michael Sears (co-author of the Detective Kubu-series) interviewed Mike Nicol for The Big Thrill
Mike Nicol is the best stylist writer in the thriller genre in South Africa today - his staccato language, tense plotting, and nice and nasty backdrop of Cape Town makes each of his books impossible to put down. Nicol’s novels just keep getting better. And if you’ve never read a South African thriller before, try Sleeper - you’ll be hooked.
Cool-cat surfer Fish Pescado and his ex (maybe) spy girlfriend, Vicki Kahn, are back.
The minister of energy is murdered and his lover hires Fish to find the killer - but then disappears herself.
A much deeper game is going on, and one that sucks Vicki back into her old profession.
Spies, terrorists, a briefcase of enriched uranium, and a sleeper all come to a head at a farm in the Agter-Paarl.
Below, Nicol takes some time to answer a few questions for The Big Thrill about his riveting new thriller, Sleeper.
Mike, Fish, and Vicki have an up-and-down relationship - both always seem to be on the point of breaking it off. In Sleeper, Fish is thrown into prison and Vicki is lured back to her old spying role by her previous handler, so they don’t even spend a lot of time together. Do you see them more as diverse protagonists than as a couple?
You’re absolutely right. The nature of their relationship is an uneasy reliance. They are attracted to one another; they like being with one another, but circumstances are against them and their relationship.
Fish is probably the more steadfast of the two as Vicki has her gambling addiction to accommodate and she is secretive by nature, hence the ease with which she becomes a spy and continues in the shadow world even when she’s no longer employed as an agent.
Also they allow me to do two things: they allow for Fish’s private investigations and the restrictions and hostilities he faces as he goes about them; while Vicki gives access to the dark world of espionage, both local and international. I wanted to contrast these two different ways of interpreting events.
At the heart of the novel is a ‘sleeper’ - an agent totally submerged under cover. But who the person is, and who the principal is, forms part of the intrigue. What was it about having a sleeper in the story that appealed to you?
I have a fascination with history. History is full of sleepers and you just never know when they’re going to awaken, and when they do what havoc they’ll cause.
The secret agent as sleeper seems to be the metaphor that best serves this idea of how history determines the present and future. Also sleepers are initially one thing and then they become another. For long periods they are benign, then suddenly they are activated and become malignant.
Another metaphor would be to see them as cancerous cells. We all have these cells in us, we just don’t know if or when they will be triggered. Sleepers are part of what it is to be human.
You could move many thrillers with only superficial changes to other cities, even other countries. Your novels are steeped in Cape Town, from Fish’s surfer culture, through the politics around the different race groups, to the homeless bergies. I can’t imagine the books set anywhere else. Is Cape Town the “real” hero of your books?
For me, the major attraction of crime fiction - all categories of thriller, actually - is the setting. Those crime novels I value most carry stories you can’t separate from their cities and countries.
I want the rich tapestry of politics, culture, and history that good crime fiction uses. If it doesn’t have that, if it is a generic thriller, I’m not going to finish reading the book.
Given this, it’s important for me that Cape Town is at the center of my fiction and that the type of characters that make up my imaginary version of the city are the type of characters you are unlikely to find anywhere else. You’re right, Cape Town is the real hero.
Continue reading their conversation here.