Africa Scene: Murder out of Africa

06 July 2020 - 13:41 By michael sears
Is it time to have a subgenre called African Crime or African Noir? asks Michael Sears, co-author of the 'Detective Kubu' series.
Is it time to have a subgenre called African Crime or African Noir? asks Michael Sears, co-author of the 'Detective Kubu' series.
Image: Supplied

Published in The Big Thrill (01/07/2020)

This month, we talk “murder” with four widely acclaimed writers of African thrillers - Leye Adenle, Tony Park, Kwei Quartey, and Stanley Trollip.

Tell us a little about yourself and your current books.

Leye Adenle: I never know what to say about myself. I’m a writer from Nigeria living in London. I’ve just completed two new manuscripts: Unfinished Business, the third Amaka thriller set in Nigeria, and the first book of a new series set in London I’m calling the Bad Coach series.

Kwei Quartey: I’m a physician and the author of the Inspector Darko Dawson and Emma Djan Investigations series. I’m working on one of the last edits for the upcoming second Emma Djan book, Sleep Well, My Lady, and trying to work on the synopsis for the next Darko novel, Night Girl. I was born in Ghana to mixed heritage - American and Ghanaian - but now live in Pasadena, California.

Tony Park: I’m an Australian who writes novels set in Africa. My wife and I first visited southern African in 1995. We got hooked, came back every year, and since my first book came out in 2004, we’ve lived half of each year in Africa and half in Australia. My 18th thriller, Last Survivor, is about the lucrative and illegal underground trade in African plants. In Last Survivor the rarest cycad in the world, thought to be extinct, is discovered and then stolen to fund a terrorist attack.

Stanley Trollip: I’m South African-born and have homes in Cape Town and Minneapolis in Minnesota in the States. I’m a retired professor of educational psychology and educational technology. I write the Detective Kubu series with Michael Sears and am finalising a novella, Wolfman, set in northern Minnesota, that I hope to publish this year. I try to spend as much time in the African bush as I can.

What’s in a name? Is it time to have a subgenre called African Crime or African Noir?

LA: I live in perpetual fear of being lovingly praised as the African [insert famous Western writer]. I want to be a damn good writer, end of. That’s a bit different from genre, though, and if Nordic Noir is a thing, well, African Noir is a bigger thing. We all know that the darkest shadows are where the sun is brightest.

KQ: Absolutely, and on its own terms. As Leye says, we don’t want to be called the African Henning Mankell, and so on any more than European or American crime writers want to be compared to an African one. I strongly encourage bookstores and libraries to have an African Crime section in its own right.

ST: Our Detective Kubu has been likened to an African Colombo. That is useful only in so far as it piques a Western reader’s interest. I have tried, more successfully than I expected, to draw attention away from the current tsunami of Nordic Noir by using the term Sunshine Noir - we even published an anthology to which both we, Leye, and Kwei contributed. As for a name, I like the straightforward African Crime Fiction.

TP: I think we’re there already, so, yes, for sure, let’s give it a name. There are enough of us out there.

What makes African crime special? How does Africa feature as a “character” in your thrillers?

KQ: Africa has a certain power and a larger-than-life presence — its scenery, sights, colours, smells, sounds, and its woes. It doesn’t just make you pay attention to it. Sometimes it can beat you into submission. Think you can get DNA results this afternoon like in the movies? Well, think again. Some director in some lab somewhere just went on leave and nothing can get signed off until he or she returns. And when will that be? “Please, maybe tomorrow. Or next week.”

TP: A big part of my international audience are expatriate Africans and they love reading about their homelands. I love learning and exploring and the more I do of both, the more my love for the continent and its amazing diversity grows. I want to share that love, so Africa emerges front and centre as a character in my writing.

ST: Almost everything is different in Africa from Western countries - varied cultures, attitudes to time, belief in spirits, the impact of illnesses, and so on. It’s impossible to transplant any of our stories out of the continent.

LA: I think that just like you can hear the Africa in my voice, in the way I talk, so also you can feel Africa in my writing, and it’s not just because my characters are mostly African and my novels so far have been set in Africa.

Click here to continue reading their conversation.