My writing thrillers set in faraway places has its origin in my long appreciation of books written in that sub-genre. Growing up in Germany—a stone’s throw from the Dutch border—the world outside was never far away. At the time, the Cold War novels of John Le Carré and Len Deighton were my favorite pleasure reading. Since my professional life has taken me to many countries around the world. I’ve made it a habit to find crime fiction by authors living in those countries.
For this blog post, rather than focusing on the all-time favorites, let me talk—in no particular order—about five novels written by African authors that I’ve enjoyed very much and that might not have caught the attention of American readers.
Heart of the Hunter
by Deon Meyer
Thobela Mpayipheli, a big man appropriately nicknamed “Tiny,” has a bit of a checkered past, which makes him the best candidate for riding a BMW the 1,800 miles from Cape Town, South Africa, to Lusaka, Zambia, to deliver a hard drive full of classified information to unknown criminals. At stake is the life of the man who used to be his friend a long time ago. At the same time, the South African intelligence service wants to prevent the delivery at all cost.
The result is an exciting thriller that follows Tiny’s ride across South Africa, dodging his pursuers and racing against the 72-hour time limit. I traveled the same route on one of my trips to South Africa, and Tiny’s ride brought back many wonderful memories.
Easy Motion Tourist
by Leye Adenle
Guy Collins, a British journalist on his first trip to Lagos, Nigeria, gets caught up in a gruesome murder case. More than a bit out of his comfort zone, he is saved by Amaka, the guardian angel of Lagos’ prostitutes, because she thinks he’s a well-connected BBC journalist who can highlight and help end the dangerous trade in body parts.
It’s a gritty but amazing introduction to the largest city in Africa’s most populous country. Well worth the read.
by Mukoma Wa Ngugi
Son of Kenya’s most famous author Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Mukoma Wa Ngugi tells a powerful tale of African-American cop Ishmael in Madison, WI, who investigates a murder that occurs on the property of an Africa man who survived the Rwandan genocide and became famous for having sheltered Tutsis from murderous mobs. A tip leads Ishmael from Madison to Nairobi where he connects with a Kenyan detective nicknamed “O” to track down information that reveals some shocking truths about the genocide and the people who survived. Another gritty introduction to a large African city.
by Michael Stanley
The South African writing duo Michael Stanley has created an enduring character in Inspector Kubu of the Botswana police services. In this case, Kubu investigates the murder of an opposition candidate. It’s a politically charged case in the run-up to elections.
At the same time, reports of missing children keep popping up, and Kubu’s new assistant, Samantha Khama, has made it her mission to uncover what happened to the children. Unbeknownst to them, the cases are related, and solving them requires delving into yet another case of illegal trade in body parts.
Now, Botswana’s capital, Gaborone, may be rather sedate compared to Lagos or Nairobi, but don’t let that stop you from delving into a taut thriller.
Murder at Cape Three Points
by Kwei Quartey
Ordinarily, Inspector Dawson’s beat at the Ghana Criminal Investigations Department is in the capital of Accra. But the murder of a prominent couple at Ghana’s southernmost tip gets him seconded to this out-of-the-way place. It also happens to be the place where off-shore oil discoveries have dramatically changed the once-quiet pace of life. Dawson isn’t happy to leave his family behind, but as he digs into the local conflicts, he finds that plenty of folks had a reason to kill the victims. The impact of a sudden influx of cash into a rural region shows, again, that so-called progress and crime go hand in hand.
Michael Niemann’s thriller Illegal Holdings, featuring UN investigator Valentin Vermeulen is set in Mozambique.
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Michael Niemann grew up in a small town in Germany, ten kilometers from the Dutch border. Crossing that border often at a young age sparked in him a curiosity about the larger world. He studied political science at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität in Bonn and international studies at the University of Denver. During his academic career he focused his work on southern Africa and frequently spent time in the region. He's been writing fiction since 2010. For more information, go to: michael-niemann.com.