Africa Scene: Why Read African Thrillers?
Celebrating Reading Africa Week: A Year in Review
Readers of mysteries and thrillers enjoy great stories, memorable characters, and an adrenalin rush or two. Many of them also enjoy mind travel—going to other parts of the world where things work differently and perhaps less predictably than they do at home. Looking back over the ten books we’ve featured in 2023, I think we ticked all the boxes. The books range from impossible-to-put-down thrillers to character-driven crime fiction. Most of the books are contemporary, but three are fine historicals, recreating the Africa of the past. The stories span sub-Saharan Africa. Some authors live in the countries where they set their books, and some do not, but in every case, their fiction is steeped in knowledge of and research into the country concerned.
So, for Reading Africa Week, may I remind you? These books are all available, and you can click on the link below the title to read the interview with the author and learn more about the story. Why not pick at least one that suits your taste and see what reading Africa has to offer?
GHOST SEASON by Fatin Abbas
We started the year in South Sudan at an NGO station in Saraaya, a fictional town near the border with Sudan. As the tensions between the countries, races, and religions mount, the split between the Christian Nilots and the Muslim nomads flares. The sense of place is powerful, and the characters are superbly drawn. William, the Nilot translator, is also the de facto manager of the NGO. He’s in love with their cook, Layla, who is a nomad. Then there’s Mustafa, a young nomad boy trying to support his mother and siblings by doing odd jobs at the NGO. Mustafa is everyone’s favorite until he gets involved with arms smugglers to make a little extra money. The book is part thriller, part love story, and a remarkable debut novel by any standards.
THE PRIDE by Tony Park
Now, head south to South Africa. In THE PRIDE, Tony returns to one of his favorite series characters—kick-ass former mercenary Sonja Kurtz. Her daughter is roughed up by an abalone poacher at a beach, and that’s enough for Sonja to take on the poachers, the Cape Flats gangs who own them, and the Chinese Triads, who are their insatiable customers. The action ramps up from the first page to the very last. Tony always comes up with twisty plots and gripping climaxes, and THE PRIDE is no exception.
LAST SEEN IN LAPAZ by Kwei Quartey
Don’t get whiplash as we zoom north-west to Ghana for the third installment of Kwei’s award-winning PI Emma Djan series. The first book in the series, The Missing American, was an Edgar Award nominee and won the 2021 Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel. LAST SEEN IN LAPAZ easily lives up to the standard of its predecessors.
The daughter of the erstwhile Nigerian high commissioner to Ghana vanishes from her parents’ home. Has she run away with a young man she knows, or has she been kidnapped as her parents fear? Emma investigates—delving into the world of sex workers and people smugglers—and discovers that aspects of the case stretch as far as Libya.
UNFINISHED BUSINESS by Leye Adenle
Just next door in Nigeria, we find UNFINISHED BUSINESS, the third thriller in Leye Adenle’s critically acclaimed series featuring Amaka, a woman who makes it her business to protect sex workers in Lagos. Leye’s work has been praised for its sharp prose, memorable characters, and unflinching portrayal of the darker side of human nature. There’s a leavening of humor, too. How about a huge crowd digging up a graveyard looking for buried money?
THE NIGERWIFE by Vanessa Walters
Stay in Nigeria to meet Nicole. She seems to have the perfect life—a handsome husband, two beautiful kids, plenty of money, servants. Her new home on upmarket Victoria Island in Lagos is very different from her quite ordinary existence in London. Then, one day, she simply disappears.
Her aunt flies out from London to try to find out what’s happened to her, but she’s shocked to discover that no one really seems to care, including the police, who have been paid to keep the investigation low-key. THE NIGERWIFE is a remarkable novel with family relationships at its heart, and Lagos seems to be the perfect setting for this strangely twisted story.
THE LIONESS by Chris Bohjalian
Head east to Tanzania. Chris Bohjalian is a very well-known novelist—he’s a New York Times bestseller, has been translated into thirty languages, and has had his work adapted for movies and TV series. This story takes place in the mid-sixties when Hollywood was at the height of its star-generating powers, and the Serengeti in Tanzania was becoming a magnet for wealthy international tourists.
Katie Barstow is a rising movie star and decides to celebrate her wedding by taking her closest family and friends on an African safari led by one-time white hunter Charlie Patton.
All goes well until a gang of white men attacks the safari, killing a guide and seizing the tourists. Almost immediately, it’s clear that this is not a straightforward kidnapping. The attackers have Russian accents and are somehow involved with what’s going on in the Congo, where Patrice Lumumba has just been killed. After that, all hell breaks loose in this super page-turner.
EYE BROTHER HORN by Bridgett Pitt
Now, back to South Africa, but 150 years ago, in 1870s Natal. A Zulu foundling and a white missionary’s child are raised as brothers in a world intent on making them enemies. As the tensions between them mount, they lead to anger and, eventually, to violent death. EYE BROTHER HORN is a gripping and moving historical novel that addresses identity and kinship against a clash of cultures.
SINS OF THE FATHER by Dire Tladi
SINS OF THE FATHER is wide-ranging, both in geography and plot, starting with a terrorist attack at a senior intergovernmental meeting in the DRC. Once legal-eagle Tolamo gets involved, he meets a French spy whose partner was killed in the attack and a very smart policewoman, and his feet hardly touch the ground as he pursues the secret of Gaddafi’s Lion’s Mouth from South Africa to Sudan to the US, to Paris, Vienna… Grab a coffee to stay alert and keep up with him!
BORN THE SAME by Antony Dunford
Back north to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The novel is set in the Garamba National Park, which borders on southern South Sudan, an area crawling with lawless militias. It could be one of the most dangerous places in the world outside a formal warzone. The book has a powerful sense of place—pelting rain, massive trees, grass higher than a man, and vicious warlords. Add an English reporter way out of his depth and a conservationist desperate at any cost to find the last of the Northern White Rhinos in this maelstrom. What could go wrong?
THE QUALITY OF MERCY by Siphiwe Ndlovu
Finally, south to Zimbabwe. On the eve of his country’s independence, Spokes Moloi investigates his first “white case” and finds a very confusing crime scene. Having recently been promoted to Chief Inspector, it’s up to Spokes to solve long-standing mysteries. His task now is to unravel the alleged murder of a man, Emil Coetzee, but also the tangled web that his life created.
THE QUALITY OF MERCY is a most unusual book and hard to pigeonhole. At one level, it’s a gripping mystery, but it has aspects that are usually associated with good literary fiction. Here, you will find characters you can’t forget. It’s among my top five recent Southern African mysteries.
Happy reading, and all the best to you all for the holiday season!
International Thrills: Why Read African Thrillers? A Year in Review