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?
Michael Sears: It’s one we’ve had for a long time. It’s about the only issue we found in Botswana about which people are uncomfortable and about which they are reticent to talk freely. We’ve spoken to two remarkable women in Botswana – Alice Mogwe, who runs an NGO one of whose concerns is the Bushman situation, and Unity Dow, novelist and high court judge at the time of the legal challenges of government policies by the Bushman peoples. The issue is complex and multifaceted as one would expect. We wanted to try to show that by displaying the current realities juxtaposed with the past. We tried not to take sides. We’ve already been told that we took the government side, and we’ve been told that we took the Bushman side. So maybe we got it more or less right!
Stanley Trollip: I’ve had a fascination with the Bushman ever since I can remember, initially being intrigued by their skills of tracking, hunting, and surviving in the harshest of climates. Then I became appalled at what intruders, black and white, did to them – treating them like animals rather than humans. Where I am now is more of an observer – how do nomads survive in a world where land-ownership and land-use prevents free movement? How does a government, constitutionally charged to provide education and basic health services deal with a nomadic culture? What responsibility do we as citizens of the world have to maintain an ancient culture like that of the Bushman peoples, when our own cultures are changing the whole time? It is a really difficult situation, particularly as the remarkable Bushman skills are poorly suited to the 21st Century.
In her last novel, Stolen Lives, Jassy Mackenzie dealt with human trafficking, and corruption in the SA department of internal affairs which has turned our passport into one of the most suspect travel documents on the planet. Fraud was so rife (the problem is being addressed we are told) that we now have to acquire expensive visas to travel to countries which previously let us in without hesitation, the UK being a case in point. In her new novel Mackenzie turned to the evil ways of corporations.
‘Corporates terrify me,’ she said in a Crime Beat interview. ‘Bureaucracy enrages me and red tape makes me want to brandish my machete at a yelling run.’
In Worst Case she has a corporation planning environmental disaster for financial gain.
‘Worst Case is set in the iSimingaliso Wetlands Park, one of the most beautiful, unspoilt areas in the world. I chose this setting because [my main character] Jade’s mother died in Richards Bay, which is very close by, and part of the reason for Jade’s choosing to go on holiday here was to visit her grave. The BP oil spill in the [Gulf of Mexico] was all over the news when I started to write this book, so it was an easy decision when I asked the question: what is the biggest threat to a coastal estuary with a vulnerable ecosystem?
Personally, I am fascinated by the “what-if” consequences of catastrophes like this, and as a reader I love getting all the details because it helps me to visualise the full extent of the disaster. Oil seems to be have been a headline subject in the news for a few years now – from the BP spill to the Arctic Refuge drilling controversy, to the proposed fracking by Shell in the Karoo. Because of all of this, I didn’t want to underplay the toxic damage to the environment that can result from human greed.’
On another matter entirely, you can also read an interview I did about my Revenge Trilogy (Payback, Killer Country and Black Heart).