Mike Nicol is one of the leaders of South African crime fiction, and his Revenge trilogy – PAYBACK, KILLER COUNTRY and BLACK HEART are important novels of the dark side of twenty-first century South Africa in any genre. Deon Meyer has said of Mike’s style that it is “by far the best in South Africa” and that he creates “deliciously complex characters.” His latest book – OF COPS AND ROBBERS – certainly maintains those very high standards.
Before coming to crime fiction, Mike wrote four acclaimed literary novels, non-fiction, poetry, a memoir, a book on the 1994 election titled THE WAITING COUNTRY and collaborated on the mammoth MANDELA – THE AUTHORISED PORTRAIT. Mike has been a freelance journalist, author, reviewer and lecturer for thirty years. In 2007 he started the Crimebeat website, which is the window on South African crime fiction to this day.
There’s been a two year gap in Mike’s crime fiction since BLACK HEART, but his new book was worth wait. It was released in South Africa a few months ago, is already available on Kindle worldwide, and will be available in paperback in the US in February.
Margie Orford is an award-winning journalist and internationally acclaimed author, widely regarded as one of South Africa’s best writers of mystery thrillers. Her novels have been translated into twelve languages. She recently signed a five-book deal with a UK publisher, and her books will be released in the US soon through the new digital imprint of Harper Collins—Witness Impulse.
Margie was born in London and grew up in Namibia. A Fulbright Scholar, she was educated in South Africa and the United States. She is Executive Vice-President of South African PEN, the patron of Rape Crisis and of the children’s book charity, the Little Hands Trust. She lives in Cape Town.
Her protagonist—Clare Hart—is likeable and complex and has developed through the series. I’ve enjoyed all the books—LIKE CLOCKWORK, BLOOD ROSE, DADDY’S GIRL, GALLOWS HILL—but for my money WATER MUSIC is the best of a very good bunch. It’s a tense and grueling thriller which is impossible to put down. As Jake Kerridge (leading UK crime fiction critic) said in THE TELEGRAPH, “Orford plots so brilliantly that to stop reading is as harrowing as to carry on.”
In WATER MUSIC, Clare Hart’s mission is to use her psychological expertise to solve, if she can’t prevent, crimes against women and children. A young girl is discovered emaciated and on the point of death, yet no one has reported the child missing. Shortly after that, Clare learns that a brilliant young cellist, Rosa, has suddenly resigned her scholarship at a classical music college and vanished. Most people shrug it off, but her grandfather believes something terrible has happened to her. Clare tries to follow her movements over the last days before she disappeared, but her investigation leads nowhere. There seems to be some connection between the two cases, but it’s hard to fathom. By the time Clare learns the answer, she is in deep trouble.
Michael Stanley chats to Joanne Hichens about the newly released South African crime-thriller fiction collection of short stories BLOODY SATISFIED – ‘A cracking collection, with stories of stunning originality and skill,’ says Sarah Lotz.
Editing an anthology is a great deal of work even if a publisher is in place. You had to find the publisher, raise the money, solicit the stories. What were the major challenges and how did you overcome them to make BLOODY SATISFIED a reality?
Certainly there’s a tendency to underestimate the behind the scenes work involved in getting an anthology off the ground. I’d done it before with BAD COMPANY for which Lee Child wrote the foreword, so I understood the kind of effort it required. I’ve never been afraid to approach people for support, so the first thing I did was ask Deon Meyer to write a foreword. He was positive about the project, as was publisher, Tim Richman of Mercury, an imprint of Burnet Media, and so with an internationally respected author to lend lustre to the collection, and a keen publisher on board, it was all systems go.
This month Joanne Hichens interviews Michele Rowe.
Michele Rowe, a new voice in South African crime fiction, has just published, through Penguin, her debut novel WHAT HIDDEN LIES, an intriguing mystery in which detective Persephone (Persy) Jonas is forced to work with retired criminal psychologist Dr. Marge Labuschagne to solve the murder of an escaped sex offender. Although Michele works primarily as a screen writer, it seems that a life of ‘crime writing’ is really what she’s cut out for, and has been from an early age.
‘When it came to crime fiction,’ says Michele Rowe, ‘I read widely and indiscriminately. I started out reading Agatha Christie as a child, then in my teens developed a taste for Gothic horror, writers like Poe and Wilkie Collins. I still prefer the almost Gothic suspense mystery novel, rather than the classic thriller. WHAT HIDDEN LIES falls between the two. It is a mystery but has action and suspense. That’s my film background I suppose. Chases and shoot outs are de riguer!’
And in this case it’s all paid off as her manuscript won a CWA Debut Dagger. So my first question has to be: How high did you jump (for joy) when you learned you’d won a prestigious Dagger?
My first feeling was one of disbelief. I never imagined I’d get short-listed, let alone win. When I heard I felt sort of stunned and thought they may have made a mistake. But it gave me a huge boost. I’ve always coveted a Dagger award, and now I have one, and for my first book. It still seems a little unbelievable.
What lies behind the cryptic title WHAT HIDDEN LIES?
The title refers to how lies and rumors can cause untold damage, even incite violence. It’s also about what lies hidden beneath the surface of our society, like the covering up of the fate of people, particularly South Africans who were removed and displaced. It also alludes to things hidden or buried in the character’s past histories. Hopefully, once the reader finishes the book, the title will make perfect sense.
Chris Karsten is a South African prize winning author of a host of true crime books. His books are written in Afrikaans (like Deon Meyer) and some have been translated into English.
Two years ago he changed genre and wrote the first of a trilogy focussed on a very unpleasant and scary killer. The novel was published with the Afrikaans title ABEL SE ONTWAKING. It won the 2011 ATKV prose prize as well as the prize for a suspense novel.
Last year the book was translated into English and is now available worldwide.
Mike Nicol interviewed Chris for CRIMEBEAT recently. Here is the intriguing story of a true crime writer turned thriller writer:
Crime has been a subject for you for a long time, both as a journalist and now as a novelist. As a journalist was it a beat you came to by accident or was it a deliberate choice?
I started my career in journalism as a court reporter and was immediately fascinated by the legal proceedings, from detectives and forensic experts testifying and building up a case against an accused to particularly the thoughts and motivations of a criminal’s mind.
Once again I’d like to range north from South Africa and introduce a new author from Kenya. Richard Crompton’s first novel was released in the UK in February as THE HONEY GUIDE and in the US in May as HOUR OF THE RED GOD. The paperback edition will be out in the UK on the 4th of this month, and the book is also available as an ebook.It has garnered excellent reviews on both sides of the Atlantic. For example, in a starred review PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY said: “A spectacular fiction debut . . . Instantly elevates the author to the first rank of African crime writers”.
The novel is set in Nairobi at the time of the tense 2007 elections. The city is controlled by a small elite who hold power, in various forms, over an impoverished, restless majority. Amid claims of vote rigging and fraud, the presidential elections could be the spark that sets the city ablaze.With chaos looming, there is little concern about a murdered prostitute. But Detective Mollel is a former Maasai warrior, and the dead girl was a Maasai, too. Mollel’s focus on the case becomes almost a fixation as he seeks justice for the murdered woman. Rich in character development and a sense of place, this is a brilliant debut.
Richard moved from London to Nairobi with his family in 2005 and has been living in Kenya ever since. I asked Richard about his move to Kenya and his books:
Janita Lawrence is a South African author and online bookdealerbased in Johannesburg. She describes herself as “a long-legged redhead with a penchant for words and pretty things, who believes happiness can be measured in passport stamps, laughter decibels and the bulge of one’s bookshelf.” An awarded art director with an advertising background, she writes novels, plays and short stories in between running her online bookstore, raising her toddler, going on long walks, planting things, practicing yoga and drinking craft beer.
Janita’s debut novel – THE MEMORY OF WATER – is available worldwide as an ebook and a POD paperback and is published by Rebel ePublishers. It’s a witty but dark look at the lengths to which a successful writer will go to keep the words flowing. Her protagonist, Slade Harris, will jump out of planes, run cars off bridges, hire an underage prostitute in Thailand to hear her story: but usually these things don’t work out quite the way he’s planned.
After a disastrous party, Slade comes up with a plan to kill his only real friend and the only woman he really loves – Eve. He plunges into the plot with all the enthusiasm of a writer’s research, complete with reference books, internet map and props. As he’d hoped, the plan generates a great concept for his elusive new novel and the words start to flow.When Eve is found murdered exactly the way Slade plotted it, it sets off a very intriguing train of events.
Deon Meyer is the best known current mystery writer in South Africa. The London Times called him “far and away South Africa’s best crime writer,” his books have been translated into twenty-five languages, and have won a slew of prizes. His many fans at home have become used to the idea of a Meyer novel each year – a new one in Afrikaans and the previous year’s release translated into English – the South African equivalent of a “Christie for Christmas.” Regrettably, there will be no new book in 2013 but, with SEVEN DAYS releasedat the end of last year, there is much to enjoy. It’s back to a focussed narrative with flawed hero Benny Griesselworking with the South African Police’s elite Hawks unit. It’s a police procedural but with plenty of thriller elements.
Mike Nicol from Crime Beat interviewed Deon about SEVEN DAYS and his variety of current and future projects:
The police procedural is a fairly claustrophobic place: it’s about cops tracking down the baddy to minimise the mayhem. I seem to remember you saying that you found it quite a relief to get back to a closely focused narrative?
I absolutely did. The previous book (TRACKERS) was an experiment in structure, a deliberate mixture of genres, and a mammoth first draft manuscript of more than 650 pages. So to return to the safe haven and familiarity of the traditional crime novel was a real relief. And I did not find it claustrophobic at all.
For variety, this month I thought I would invite South African author Michael Stanley to interview a senior detective in the Botswana Police about the issues there and about how the police go about solving crimes. Assistant Superintendent David Bengu is a detective in the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) based in the capital, Gaborone. The CID is situated in a modern building which looks out onKgale Hill – a lone exception to the pancake flatness of the area. Surrounded by the sprawling city, Kgale Hill is still home to a variety of small buck and troops of baboons.
Detective Bengu is a busy man, but felt that he could spare an hour over lunch to chat to Michael – provided, of course, that it was at a good restaurant and that Michael was paying.
A year ago I interviewed Jassy Mackenzie about her thriller THE FALLEN, the third in her series about a very competent and dangerous lady – Jade de Jong – and her policeman partner David Patel. If you haven’t read THE FALLEN yet, do yourself that favor while you wait for the new book – PALE HORSES – to be out in the US next month. The horse in question is the fourth horse of the apocalypse, and, as THE WITNESS newspaper commented in South Africa, “Jade and David Patel find themselves in a race against time as they deal with sinister and very powerful forces in a satisfyingly tense and convoluted plot.”
Jassy was born in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), moved to South Africa when she was eight years old, and now lives in Johannesburg. She loves the energy, danger and excitement of Johannesburg, and believes there is no better place for a thriller writer to live.
Mike Nicol interviewed her about PALE HORSES for Crimebeat:
In your previous novel, THE FALLEN, the story was built on a possible environmental disaster. In your new novel, PALE HORSES, the theme recurs, except this time the disaster has happened. At the heart of the book is a concern with genetically modified crops. Clearly the dangers posed to our environment by pollution and our manipulation of natural processes is a major concern to you?
Yes, it is. This type of damage is often irreparable, which I believe makes this type of threat all the more serious, with so many people and organizations hell-bent on destroying their environment for the sake of greed.
Roger Smith – King of South African Noir
All of Roger Smith’s books are events, and the latest – CAPTURE – has solidified his reputation as the king of South African Noir. A character driven thriller, it was described by The Times as “A harrowing psychological page turner. Gripping.” Mike Nicol called it “searing” and “a book that demands to be read”. Here is Mike’s discussion with Roger for Crimebeat about how he came to write CAPTURE:
In tone and style CAPTURE fits perfectly into the growing collection of Roger Smith crime novels. And yet there is something different about this one. It is more intimate. As if the major characters have been skinned and feel everything intensely because their nerves are exposed. It seems that in CAPTURE the focus is on the main characters (Nick Exley and his wife Caroline) and their reactions to a tragedy (and unfolding events) rather than on greater social issues? Which is not to say that the wider social issues are not all too present, just that you seem to have gone for a psychological close-up rather than a socio-political wide-angle approach with this novel.
After my third book, DUST DEVILS, which was my “cinemascope road movie” about contemporary South Africa and all its evils, I instinctively wanted to write something more contained, claustrophobic even, and I seemed to be ready to peel away that extra layer and get deeper into the psyches of my characters. In my first three books my characters were defined pretty much by their actions. In CAPTURE their interior darkness cross-talks with their increasingly desperate and anti-social behaviour.
In November Joanne Hichens wrote about the South African mystery short story competition and anthology. There’s been a tremendous response with around 200 entries. A number of prominent South African authors have submitted, and plenty of new writers too, which is great. Part of the idea, after all, is to find some new local voices. The publication of the collection will also put the crime/ thriller genre squarely in the eye of the South African readership, as the launch will be celebrated at the National Arts Festival. The winners will be flown to Grahamstown, to celebrate their success at the launch of the collection as well as the launch of the award. Joanne is certain the anthology will be a riveting collection that will give a greater readership a real feel for South African crime writing. I’m sure she’s right!
Malla Nunn was born in Swaziland and now lives in Sydney. She is an award winning movie director, and in 2009she came out with her first mystery novel – A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE – set in the South Africa of the 1950s. It was critically acclaimed and published internationally. Her second novel – LET THE DEAD LIE – followed, and her third – BLESSED ARE THE DEAD (SILENT VALLEY in South Africa) – was released last June. Asked to describe her life in eight words, she responded: “A chaotic juggling act. Writing, children, dreaming, cooking.”
This month’s newsletter is a departure in that the featured author lives in Los Angeles and writes mysteries set in Ghana rather than South Africa. But the issue he discusses is important to any author writing about a culture outside the reader’s home culture,and particularly relevant in South Africa (or Botswana for that matter).
Kwei Quartey’s first book WIFE OF THE GODS introduced a memorable new detective, Darko Dawson, in Accra, Ghana. That book met enthusiastic critical acclaim, and was followed by the quite different but equally intriguing CHILDREN OF THE STREET. Michael Connelly said: “Kwei Quartey does what all the best storytellers do. He takes you to a world you have never seen and makes it as real to you as your own backyard. In CHILDREN OF THE STREET he brings a story that is searing and original and done just right. Inspector Darko Dawson is relentless and I look forward to riding with him again.”
Here Kwei talks about the issues he thinks about as he takes you to that other world.
Joanne Hichens is a writer, editor, and journalist, and lectures in creative writing. Her third novel –DIVINE JUSTICE – made the top ten in the South African Sunday Times Killer Thriller list. It followed OUT TO SCORE (2006), co-authored and published in the USA as CAPE GREED, and STAINED (2009), a youth novel published in the UK and France.
Joanne was responsible for the critically acclaimed first anthology of South African crime-fiction short stories – BAD COMPANY- published in 2008. Now she has exciting news about a new venture with the South African National Arts Festival – the SHORT, SHARP STORIES Award that she has pulled off. She is the curator of the new award.
But there’s more…Over to her:
Mining more diamonds….
A new South African crime/ thriller fiction anthology for 2013
When Lee Child said, of the first South African crime-thriller anthology BAD COMPANY, ‘I knew there were diamond mines in South Africa, but look what just came out,’ I was thrilled (and I will never forget!) that a writer of international stature had given our project the stamp of approval. Another was David Hewson, to whom I am ever grateful for sound advice. It was so wonderful to have the support of ITW.
It is with great pleasure then that I announce that 2013 will see a new collection of South African crime/ thriller short stories to be published as the first of the newly initiated ‘Short Sharp Stories’ series. The anthology, which has a cash prize attached, will feature established names such as Jassy Mackenzie, Roger Smith andMichael Stanley, but will specifically include new, fresh voices.
The ‘Short Sharp Stories’ team really want to offer emerging writers an opportunity for publication, as well as to grow the readership of crime and thriller fiction in South Africa by bringing to the market another smorgasbord of home-grown tales. It is also important to grow a market beyond our shores by showcasing more of our story tellers and sharing their writing with a larger audience.
Going back a little in our history, it’s true that various authors produced noteworthy thriller reads before 1994, during which the first free and fair elections saw Nelson Mandela elected as President. But the focus of novels was almost exclusively on the struggle against the oppressive political system of Apartheid. With the human rights atrocities perpetrated during those dark years, it was as if a good thriller was considered illegitimate. Even though James McClure, thought by many to be the Big Daddy of South African crime fiction, was widely read and enjoyed, publication of most fiction depended on whether a novelist was addressing issues of Apartheid or not.
A sense of literary exhilaration was experienced as writers were ‘free at last’ to explore whatever stories they wanted to, through whatever genre. And so the pool of South African crime and thriller fiction writers started to expand. Exciting times, then, as the genres continue to grow in popularity worldwide, and as South African writers get recognition for bringing thrilling tales to the reader.
The most recent South African prize winners are SifisoMzobe winning the Wole Soyinka Literary Prize awarded in Nigeria for YOUNG BLOOD; Deon Meyer won the South African M-net fiction prize (for film) for SEWE DAE (SEVEN DAYS); and Michael Stanley, just a couple of weeks back, won a Barry at Bouchercon for DEATH OF THE MANTIS. (A Barry was awarded to Deon Meyer last year for THIRTEEN HOURS.)
Numerous debates continue, too, around the question of whether the South African crime novel particularly, might indeed be the replacement ‘political novel’, as crime is such a scourge in our country. Particularly violent crime, which is often at the forefront, as far as themes go, of South African literature. For this anthology we will welcome edgy, danger-filled stories as well as clever, nuanced stories, in which the small crimes we commit everyday with impunity are explored. We’re also hoping a measure of justice might be done, so sorely needed in South Africa.
Perhaps this anthology too, might further consolidate a South African ‘identity’ in crime/thriller fiction. Whether, as South Africans, we live in sprawling townships, bustling cities, or rural farming towns, there is a particular ‘style’ to living here, even though life varies from culture to culture. So, not only will this be a collection of nail-biting, twist-in-the tale stories, I hope it will be distinctly South African, taking into account the diversity of the ‘Rainbow’ nation.
I am pleased to share too, that the foreword will be penned by Deon Meyer. I look forward, as editor, to enticing you to cut your teeth on more diamonds – more South African tales of mystery, intrigue, and suspense.
The working title for the collection is BLOODY SATISFIED!
South African citizens or residents are invited to submit stories for the new collection. The stories must be set in South Africa and submitted by 30th November 2012. More details can be found at The National Arts Festival and Short, Sharp Stories.
Andrew Brown is practices as an advocate in Cape Town and he is a reservist sergeant in the police. So when he writes crime fiction set in Cape Town, he knows what he’s talking about! His novel COLDSLEEP LULLABY won the Sunday Times Fiction Prize in 2006.
His new book – SOLACE – was released in South Africa earlier this year. Publisher’s synopsis:
“The body of a Muslim boy is found in a synagogue, mutilated in what looks like a ritual sacrifice, and Inspector Eberard Februarie is called in to solve the case. As news of the murder quickly becomes public, a storm of religious violence threatens to engulf Cape Town. Eberard, however, suspects that the case is not as clear cut as it seems. But can he prove this before the storm breaks?
Amanda Coetzee was born in Bedford, England, has an honors degree in Performing Arts and performed in several countries in Europe. She worked in adult education (including a brief tenure at Holloway Women’s Prison) before travelling and eventually falling in love with her husband and South Africa. She is now deputy principal at a school in Rustenburg (a city in the platinum-mining north west of the country). She experimented with various genres, but loves mysteries and finally came to the story of Harry O’Connor.
Harry was abandoned as a young boy and adopted by a clan of Irish Travellers (gypsies). There he earns himself the nickname “Badger” by carving out a reputation as a bare-knuckle boxer who never backs down in a fight. As an adult, Badger joins the London Metropolitan Police and severs all ties with the Irish band until the investigation of a missing child marks his return to the world he grew up in. For me, Badger is one of the most interesting and complex protagonists to enter the mystery genre for many a year.
Mike Nicol is well known to regular readers of this column. He started it when ITW was inaugurated and wrote it for five years. I wanted to start my tenure with News from South Africa with an interview with Mike himself, but he is too modest for that! Nevertheless, he did agree to chat at some point about his Revenge Trilogy – three crime novels which cut through the veneer of the new South Africa in a way no other author has managed. These are must-read thrillers if you want an insight to the dark heart of twenty-first century South Africa, and when you start the first, you won’t stop till the end of the third.
Before coming to crime fiction, Mike wrote four novels, non-fiction, poetry, a memoir, a book on the 1994 election titled THE WAITING COUNTRY and collaborated on the mammoth MANDELA – THE AUTHORISED PORTRAIT. Recently he wrote a true crime portrait of the tragic Anni Dewani murder in an innovative way, highlighting the impact of modern media. He talks about that book – MONKEY BUSINESS – on Murder Is Everywhere.
This month we have a guest article by Chris Marnewick, who has just completed a small tour of southern hemisphere book conferences. Chris is a retired South African advocate – barrister – who now lives in Auckland. His debut novel SHEPHERDS & BUTCHERS won the Johannesburg University Prize and the K Sello Duiker Prize of the South African Literary Awards and is due to be turned into a feature film this year. Chris’ later novels – THE SOLDIER WHO SAID NO and A SAILOR’S HONOUR feature an expat SA soldier turned policeman who lives in Auckland but returns to South Africa every second year or so to settle old scores and to solve crime. Hopefully Chris will be back over here more frequently than that! Here’s his news from South Africa (and Auckland):
Wilf Nussey was a newspaperman for forty years, all but four of them in Africa. He was the foremost foreign correspondent for the large Argus group of newspapers for many years spanning most of Africa’s transition to independence and its continuing upheavals. Before that he was a freelance correspondent in Kenya for British and North American media and lived and worked in Britain and Canada. Assignments have taken him to the Middle East, Far East, Europe and New Zealand.
Wilf has distilled that experience and knowledge into a thriller – DARTS OF DECEIT – that is believable on every page and sucks you into an era where danger in Southern Africa was the norm. His hero – Victor Kennedy – has withdrawn from the turbulent bush war of Rhodesia and is looking for a new life in England, but he is targeted for a mission back in Africa that looks hard and turns out to be impossible.
This weekend – a long weekend in South Africa – saw the Knysna Literary Festival. Knysna is a small town on the south coast of South Africa, mainly famous for its spectacular lagoon and oysters. But it seems to be traditional in this part of the world to have cultural events taking place in small towns. And this year the festival had a focus on mysteries, thrillers, and true crime.
Jassy Mackenzie burst onto the South African thriller scene with her debut novel RANDOM VIOLENCE (2010), introducing Jade de Jong, and reflecting the violent tension of Johannesburg that hadn’t been a focus of current South African thriller fiction before her book. Jade was back in STOLEN LIVES (2011), and this month sees the release of her new book THE FALLEN. Tess Gerritsen described it as “A white-knuckle thriller with an utterly chilling finale and twists you’ll never anticipate. I raced through this book and wanted more!”
Jassy was born in Rhodesia (as all ex-Zimbabweans still prefer to call it), moved to South Africa when she was eight years old, and now lives in Johannesburg. She loves the energy, danger and excitement of Johannesburg, and believes there is no better place for a thriller writer to live. I asked Jassy to chat about the novel and the intriguing Jade.
Joanne Hichens is a writer, editor and journalist. Her new thriller, DIVINE JUSTICE, has just been released in South Africa and will be available on Kindle by the time you read this. DIVINE JUSTICE is her third novel, following OUT TO SCORE (2006), co-authored and published in the USA as CAPE GREED, and STAINED (2009), published in the UK and France. She edited the first anthology of South African crime-fiction short stories, BAD COMPANY (2008) (also now available on Kindle), and THE BED BOOK OF SHORT STORIES (2010), both of which include her own work. She lives in Cape Town.
Taking over this column from Mike Nicol, I’m very aware that I have big shoes to fill. And I have only one foot to do it, because I’m actually only one half of a mystery author. I’m the Michael half of the writer “Michael Stanley”. My long-time friend and partner in crime (writing that is) is Stanley Trollip.With luck, he and – from time to time – other southern African writers, will help me report on the mystery writing news from this part of the world and hence fill that other shoe.
By Mike Nicol
I started reporting on South African crime fiction for International Thriller Writers back in October 2008. That was the start of the local version of the genre in SA. Somewhat of an explosion as it turned out.
Up until 2006, crime thrillers were a big hole in the country’s literature. Sure there had been James McClure and Wessel Ebersohn, and June Drummond had produced a number of crime novels set in South Africa during her writing career which went back to the 1950s, but for the most part there was a gap.
By Mike Nicol
A couple of months ago Deon Meyer won a Barry Award for his novel, THIRTEEN HOURS. Now he’s back with his seventh crime novel in English, TRACKERSs. It’s a very different sort of book. At one level it’s an experiment in how to tell a story. At another it’s a spy story with two novellas – one about a security guard charged with minding some rhinos in transit; the other about a straight down the line PI investigation. Of course all the pieces fit together, as they should. I put a couple of questions to Deon about his book.
By Mike Nicol
Recently, a political science student by the name of Thorne Godinho took SA crime fiction writers to task for being rainbow-struck. That allusion is to the tag ‘Rainbow Nation’ which Archbishop Tutu coined in those heady days of 1994, after the country’s first democratic election. Godinho really waded in and laid three charges against crime writers that were, well, pretty bruising. In fact he was critical of most of the crime fiction published here in recent years. So much for whatever hardboiled swagger we writers have developed. I have to confess I was stung into a quick reassessment.
Charge No 1: ‘The current trends in local crime fiction, however, tend to be a more docile response to the issues which plague our nation – not a literary revolution of sorts. Writers now work within the carefully-drawn lines which surround our society – poignant paragraphs rallying against economic inequality, etc remain scare. Where are the writers who challenge the status quo?’
September was a busy and notable month for SA crime fiction what with Deon Meyer winning the Barry award for best thriller of the year, and a soon to be published Michele Rowe winning a CWA debut dagger award for her manuscript.
On top of that came the publication of Peter Church’s new novel Bitter Pill which is a follow-on of sorts to his first novel, Dark Video. If you would like to read an extract from the novel click here.
One of the fascinating elements of crime thrillers is what they have to say about social issues. In the last couple of months the Michael Stanley duo (Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip) published their third novel, Death of the Mantis, which has the future of the Bushmen in southern Africa, particularly in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, as a major theme. Not long after their book appeared, came Worst Case from Jassy Mackenzie which deals with corporate malfeasance, among other matters.
During interviews on my blog Crime Beat with these authors here’s what they had to say. I asked Michael Stanley what drew them to their topic?
By Mike Nicol
Back in 2005, the top literary award in South Africa (the Sunday Times Fiction Award), went to a novel that was really a crossover between crime fiction and general fiction, in that some of it was conventional police procedural. The book was Coldsleep Lullaby by Andrew Brown and was the first time the award had been given to a book that fell as easily into a genre as it did into the serious highbrow category.
And now it’s happened again that the Sunday Times Fiction Award has gone to another hybrid. This time the book is part a coming of age novel, part a tale of criminal life in the vicious underworld of the township of Umlazi, near Durban. The book is by Sifiso Mzobe and called Young Blood. It’s his first novel and apart from the Sunday Times prize also won the 2011 Herman Charles Bosman award for fiction.
Last year I did an interview with Sifiso on Crime Beat and asked him, among other things, about the car hijacking that goes on in that township and forms such a central part of the novel.
By Mike Nicol
The CWA did a survey of the body count in British crime fiction last year and came up with an average of 8.38 bodies per book. However, one enthusiast had turned in a slaughterhouse of 150 bodies. Seems these fictional victims met all manner of horrible ends from being sliced up in an olive machine to being taxidermied alive, poisoned by Ribena, and gored by the horns of a goat. I did a quick whip round of the South African crime writers and found that we didn’t come out too badly when compared against the northern contingent. Over 19 books there was an average of 18 bodies per book, this largely due to some impressive figures turned in by Roger Smith. Then Chris Marnewick wrote to say he had 75 bodies in his book and with that the average went through the roof. Here’s a quick survey from the local gang on their own body counts arranged in order of licentiousness: