As we all know as consumers of crime fiction and drama, the world has become a much smaller place. In the case of crime drama we have the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, as well as online portal Walter Presents, that broadcast offerings from all around the world, from Argentina and Iceland to Poland and Norway. Crime fiction, too, has a worldly view, and this panel was all about Africa – a magnificent, enigmatic continent that, so far, hasn’t been shouted about (in terms of crime fiction) as much as others.
The expert chair NJ Cooper (who really is an excellent chairperson), presided over a really fascinating discussion.
The panel comprised Dean Meyer, Leye Adenle, Paul Mendelson and the collaborative pair of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, who publish their Botswana-set Detective Kubu novels under the name Michael Stanley.
It was a fascinating, grown-up discussion about Africa and its rich history and beauty, as well as its darker sides. Both Dean and, especially, Leye were keen to point out that South Africa and, in Leye’s case, Lagos in Nigeria, contains plenty of beautiful areas. But as crime writers, they have to almost concentrate on the darker sides of society, and it’s these darker sides that often inform public perception of the continent and give rise to difficult-to-shift stereotypes. Dean said that African crime fiction is as interesting and thought-provoking as anything coming out of America, the UK or Scandinavia.
Michael and Stanley agreed, urging the audience to forget Nordic Noir for a while and indulge in a bit of ‘sunshine noir’.
The discussion was wide-ranging, from the perceived role of men in African society, women and prostitution, the ANC and the cultural and traditional elements that still inform certain areas of society. Michael and Stanley recounted tales of witch doctors and the fear they still instill in people, and the horrific practice of muti murders – murders specifically designed to cull human body parts.
In all, this discussion was a bit of a highlight, full of interesting insight into a continent with such a vivid and lush visual palette, but with crime never very far away.
A member of the audience asked when we were going to see more black members on panels, surely more representative of the continent than the majority all-white panel assembled. (Slightly unfair, it has to be said.) Dean, quite rightly, said that part of that responsibility was down to us, the readers: go out and look beyond America and the UK, go and hunt down new readers from different territories, countries and continents that we’ve never experienced before, and don’t be afraid to take risks when looking for new things to read.
Amen to that.