Crime Beat: A mystery
During the Afrikanissimo weekend in Frankfurt back in January, I briefly met an academic with a love of crime fiction, Christine Matzke. She has sent me the published proceedings of a crime fiction symposium (Beyond ‘Murder by Magic’) held in 2008 at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. Next month there’ll be a flood of posts on Crime Beat from the proceedings, titled: Life is a Thriller – Investigating African Crime Fiction. Three SA crime writers attended that conference: Deon Meyer, Angela Makholwa and Meshack Masondo.
But before we get to the heavy stuff from the conference there is somewhat of a mystery that some private eye might well be able to solve.
As Christine explains in a footnote, the title of the symposium was borrowed from a novel of the same title. A novel with a ‘somewhat controversial position in the field of African crime fiction.’ The author of the novel is one Nandi D’Lovu, and at this point I need to turn to Lindy Stiebel, a prof at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, who in 2002 contributed a chapter to a book called, Readings in African Popular Fiction, edited by Stephanie Newell and published by James Currey. Stiebel’s chapter was titled “Black ‘Tecs’: Popular Thrillers by South African Black Writers in the Nineties”.
She writes: “Perhaps one should begin with D’Lovu’s thriller because it captured considerable media attention on publication. The detective hero, Jon Zulu, was hailed as the ‘black equivalent of Sherlock Holmes (The Daily News, 1996) though with James Bond overtones as the review article picked up, in echoing Bond’s famous opening line, ‘Zulu’s the name – Jon Zulu.’ The film rights, the article informed us, had been purchased by an American producer for well-known playwright Mbongeni Ngema with Danny Glover as possible lead; the Zulu translation had been presented to King Goodwill Zwelithini who lavishly praised its hero as embodying ‘traditional Zulu virtues’, and future plans included translation into other South African languages spurred on by its popular reception in Zulu and English. Excited by the prospect of a new black South African thriller writer, and a woman at that, imagine my surprise when told by the publishers that Nandi D’Lovu is the pseudonym for a white woman who, as the dustjacket tells the reader, is a freelance journalist with extensive experience ‘in Namibia and Azania’. One can only speculate that the author and publishers were hoping that a black writer would be better received as the originator of a popular crime story and aimed at newly literate readers – the text is under a hundred pages and simply written.
“Given, therefore, that it does not technically fall into the category of thrillers under discussion, despite its misleading author’s name, Murder by Magic will not be fully discussed, though its marketing and reception as a ‘black’ text have been interesting. Though there are hints of Sherlock Holmes and James Bond in this novel, the text is actually strongly reminiscent of a Rider Haggard adventure story in setting – rural Zululand, away from the modern city – and in subject matter – a village held under thrall by a powerful witchdoctor, a search for the legendary Lala treasure buried during Chaka’s time, all muddled in with gunrunners working ‘for some stupid organisation that prefers killing to living’. (D’Lovu, 1999. 88). Though the book highlights black protagonists, notably Jon Zulu, the ‘famous Zulu detective from America and his friend Abel Ngubane’, the sharp political commentary typical of the South African thriller is largely absent; what political critique there is, is aimed at European imperialism of a distant past.”
Nandi D’Lovu has written a clutch of books for children and was also published in the Macmillan Pacemaker series under the name Nandi Dlovu. The titles: Angel of Death and Race Against Rats.
Any idea who the mysterious Nandi D’Lovu is?