THE HEART OF DARKNESS
Four writers of crime fiction that will thrill and chill.
THE VITAL ENERGY OF JANIS OTSIEMI
(!Éditions Jigal!) —Libreville, the capital of Gabon, where Janis Otsiemi, 38, bases his novels, has it all: nepotism, ancient beliefs, and a gaping social divide that is totally unjustified in a country that has considerable raw material reserves. Wheeling and dealing is rife, not to mention AIDS. And yet, Otsiemi’s writing has a fresh vitality, full of proverbs and local expressions. Take the title of one of his books, “The mouth that eats doesn’t talk”, or the “second bureau” used to describe women kept by married men, or “a Lacoste” for a crocodile recipe. His colourful poetic, baroque style provides a head–on contrast with the system he denounces. His latest novel, Le Chasseur de lucioles (#literally “The Firefly Hunter”#) focuses on the murder of a number of prostitutes. “The rumour that a madman was killing women in motels to take their clitoris and offer them to politicians as fetish objects, spread through the city like wildfire.” The reader is totally immersed in the Libreville underworld, where the heat is on, both physically and metaphorically. At the end of the day though, the overriding energy puts up a surprising resistance in the face of ill–fortune.
ROGER SMITH CAPTURES SOUTH AFRICA’S
(!New Pulp Press!) A white South African born in Johannesburg and now based in Cape Town, Roger Smith is a film director and producer, who initially worked in documentary films. It shows in his books, which are extremely visual and fast–paced. They are all extremely violent, physically and morally. And the South Africa that emerges is a boiling mixture of neuroses, post–Apartheid society run through with racism, corruption, and degeneracy!… Take his fourth novel Capture. In a chic, white suburb of Cape Town, a young girl drowns, although her parents are nearby. The father is stoned and the mother is copulating with her lover in the kitchen. A black man, Vernon, an ex cop, could have intervened. But Vernon is toxic, rotten. He chooses to push the couple further under, with the help of the beautiful Dawn, a former junkie, a single mother and go–go dancer — hence the sultry night scenes, and rutting Afrikaners. An adrenaline rush and a stifling feeling of oppression guaranteed.
JOHN BURDETT, A BRIT IN
(!Corgi Books!) John Burdett is a British citizen, and former business lawyer, who has been based in Bangkok since 1996, although he also has a house in France near Cahors. His hero, Inspector Sonchai Jitpleecheep, knows the low life of Thai society like the back of his hand, and with good reason: his mother now runs a “bar” and has been known to entertain a few farangs (!Westerners!) in her time. Sonchai has never met his father, an African–American GI. The overall set–up — prostitution, drugs, organ trafficking, etc. — could produce some very murky, sordid, run–of–the–mill thrillers. Particularly as Sonchai Jitpleecheep works in District 8, where the tension is higher than anywhere else in the capital. But Burdett has a fabulous weapon, which he wields with calm dexterity: a sense of humour. Ideally it’s sarcastic, sometimes surrealistic. The reader delights in Sonchai’s existential — and often dope–fuelled — questions on life, death, good and evil. (!He regularly addresses the reader directly, for example: “Allow me to recommend the humble bud, to help with meditation, but also with police investigations. It’s not very effective when it comes to detail, but it gives a fantastic overall picture.” There should be a special mention for two of his colleagues, his boss, Colonel Vikorn, and his deputy Lek. The former thinks he is Don Corleone, but behaves like Mr Bean, and is one of the biggest mafiosi in the region. The latter is a slender transgender, who is extremely reliable. Burdett’s thrillers are exotic and philosophical.
NESBØ, THE NORWEGIAN MASTER
(!Vintage Books!) Ah! Norway, the social–democratic miracle, the exemplary Scandinavian welfare state, a cosy, egalitarian country with abundant oil reserves!… In 2011, the Utoya massacre perpetrated by the extremist Anders Behring Breivik made a definite dent in Norway’s picture–perfect image. But then, for several years now, Scandinavia’s darker side has come to the fore in a raft of Nordic crime novels by writers such as Sweden’s Stieg Larsson (!Millennium!) and Iceland’s Arnaldur Indridason (!Jar City!). In Norway, Jo Nesbø, a former economic journalist, and singer–songwriter with the Di Derre group, is still the reigning king of crime fiction. During the investigations and wanderings of his detective Harry Hole, an antisocial alcoholic, but a good cop, a dubious, dangerous side of Oslo emerges. The city is uneasy with its past — Nesbø was writing about far–right movements before Utoya — and driven mainly by money. The setting is perfect for all kinds of trafficking, drugs included, and has been since the 1970s. In his two latest novels, drugs go under the delicious name of Fioline: “A synthetic drug. It has less effect on breathing than heroin, so even though it destroys lives, there are fewer overdoses. It’s extremely addictive. Everyone who tries it comes back for more.” The Russian mafia, known for its delightful methods, holds the market in its grip and inundates Oslo with it, especially at night. The local police also has its finger in the pie. One of its members pays the price, meeting an end worthy of The Silence of the Lambs.