Crime Beat: Stray thoughts on ICE857 to Berlin
As the snowed in countryside whips by – ah, but these fast trains are wonderful – some stray thoughts on crime fiction after the Afrikanissimo festival in Frankfurt this past weekend.
Now that festival wanted to present new voices in African literature and hauled in a couple of sessions on crime fiction, which kind of didn’t really fit. Yes, there is new crime fiction in Africa, but as Nii Parkes pointed out, in Nigeria it has been around a long time. He was reading Nigerian crime writers in his youth along with the Hardy boys and Sidney Sheldon. Perhaps it might have been more focused if the attention had been on what themes arise in African crime fiction. And if this had been accompanied by some movies, well, then we’d have been rocking and rolling. What movies? Jerusalema springs instantly to mind. The thing with crime fiction is that you have to come at it on its terms or you’re going to pull your hair out. So:
At a panel discussion under the title New Country, New Themes, it was suggested by the moderator Manfred Loimeier that in my crime fiction and that of Deon Meyer, Andrew Brown, Roger Smith, South Africa gets a very negative press. This was refined to exclude Roger Smith on the basis that the brutalism in his stories renders them as fantasy. But what about the three of us?
Stray thought number 1: Now I can’t speak for Deon Meyer or Andrew Brown but it struck me that this sort of question could be asked of crime writers anywhere in the world. Does Michael Connelly’s portrait of Los Angeles have the tourist authorities jumping up and down in despair? Does the Edinburgh of Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels make that city a truly frightening place? Would you really want to visit Washington after reading George Pelecanos? Would you cross Scandinavia off your holiday possibilities because you were scared to death of encountering one of the myriad serial killers at work in their crime fiction? No one would dream of putting such a question to these writers. So why does it come up in the context of South African crime fiction? That’s a rhetorical question,by the way.
Then there’s the treatment – or mistreatment – of women in South African crime fiction. It seemed that Deon Meyer, Andrew Brown and Roger Smith were not on firm ground here either. Apparently Sheemina February gets me a pass. Anyhow in the works of the other three, women are frequently victims, why is this? Alternatively, when they are not being victims, crime fiction’s women are beautiful and deadly and here Margie Orford’s Claire Hart was mentioned although Ms Hart is not deadly at all. In three books I don’t think she has killed anyone.
Stray thought number 2: During this discussion I had to wonder if maybe a point hadn’t been missed. We were after all talking crime fiction where the women are beautiful and deadly – this is more or less a convention. In talking about crime fiction we were also talking about fantasy, about fairy tales really. Crime fiction is hardly realism. It might sound like it, it might look like it but realism it certainly is not. Don’t get too heavy guys. Be cool.