Thursday, January 30, 2020

Close to Home

The crime and mystery fiction we tend to read can be very US and Europe centric. Where else in the world would you like to see a crime fiction novel set and why?

By Catriona

It's true of my reading, certainly. I hoovered up Mma Ramotswe's early cases, set in Botswana, but I was always aware that this Setswana woman was being written by a British man, from afar. With knowledge and affection, but still from afar. I'd love to read African crime fiction by African voices.  (Ugh, a quick Google of "African crime fiction" coughed up a top ten with Agatha Christie and John Le Carre both getting a spot.) If I could have three wishes, my first would be an #ownvoices sleuth in Uganda. If you know of one, please tell me in the comments.

I do adore Vaseem Khan's Baby Ganesh series, set in contemporary Mumbai and Sujata Massey's Parveen Mistry series, set in 1920s Bombay, and I love that they're such rewarding companion reads with different lights on the same city.

Ovidia Yu is another terrific writer bringing a new-to-me location richly to life. Her "Tree" series, set in 1930s Singapore, introduces Chen Su Lin - the most beguiling heroine since Flavia de Luce. Wish number two would be for Ovidia to write more quickly. 

But the foreign country I'd most like to be able to read more crime fiction about is much closer to home than Singapore or the sub-continent. 

When I moved to California, I was homesick for various things: savoury pies; Corontation Street (this is no longer a problem, thanks to Britbox); and, most of all, old stuff. I pined for old stuff - mould, woodworm, dry rot, a castle or two . . .

It's hard to find. But I managed it. I took to visiting the grinding rock up in the foothills, where the Miwok people used to gather in autumn to prepare acorns for cooking, and - inevitably since they were all together - celebrate weddings, births and the general shared joy of being Miwok. While there - I'm not proud of this - I'd talk to the long-dead makers of the pictographs on the rock, saying things like "Why didn't you build stuff out of stone, so's it would last? I know you were here; I'm lonely!" 

One time I was up there happened to be the day before one of these celebrations (called, in English, "Big Time") and the usually deserted rock and nearby round house were alive with people preparing bells for dancing, masses of food, and dust in the round house. Yes, dust. Some of the guys were scraping patterns into the dry earth floor ready for the ceremonies the next day. They asked if I'd like to go in and, when I said yes, told me to walk in the footprints there already and back out again, making no new marks.

It was the most at home I'd felt since immigrating, there with people who still lived where their ancestors lived, doing the things their ancestors did, because they always had, not really caring why. It felt like Burry Man's Day.

Now, that I'm happily settled here, I don't go up to the grinding rock to pine anymore, but I'm still fascinated (rather a chilly word, actually) by the fact of other nations so close to this one, with a long history whose brutal disruption is largely forgotten, ignored or re-written by the immigrants. For instance, I live on the ancestral lands of the Patwin people, here north of San Francisco, but the Patwin people themselves number only in the very low thousands now, if that, and have only three small rancherias in the state.

And since I'm a writer of crime fiction and a voracious reader of it, any fascination is always going to play out as a search for mysteries. Luckily for me, there are Native American mystery writers. Two fantastic ones that I know of: Linda Rodriguez and Sara Sue Hoklotubbe. But the Hillermans, Dana Stabenow and Craig Johnson dominate. They're splendid tellers of tales, and as a reader and fellow writer I've got nothing but admiration, just as I had nothing but delight in Barbara Kingsolver's debut The Bean Trees, which I read long before I ever contemplated living in the west.

But then there's publishing. I know from working on the SinC Diverse Writers' Project that Sara Sue had to argue her corner with editors when her depiction of her lived Cherokee life contradicted Tony Hillerman's depiction of his researched Navajo life! That is bonkers on so many levels: like me saying "Scottish people visit each other at midnight on the 31st of December," and an editor saying "Cara Black never mentions French people doing any such thing."

So what I'd really love to see, my third wish of three, my only wish if I'm getting just the one, is more crime fiction set in the contemporary sovereign nations of the first Americans, written by people who've lived there. 


Ann said...

I lived on the Navajo reservation for three years, back somewhere in the past century. I'm not sure it is possible for a non-Native American to write a book that is anywhere near the actual experience of a Navajo or Hopi or any other tribe. And yes, they are so different, different culture, different languages, different foods, et al. The only thing the same is the crimes we committed against them. I've got a few stories.

Sue T. said...

I'm afraid I don't know of any crime fiction by Ugandan writers, but have you read "My Sister, The Serial Killer" by Oyinkan Braithwaite (set in Nigeria) or the Emmanuel Cooper books by Swaziland-born Malla Nunn? Kwei Quartey just launched a new series about a female private investigator in Ghana - I haven't read it yet ("The Missing American" just came out this month), but I've heard good things.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Wado,Catriona! Thank you. I have been working with several Indigenous writers who want to write crime novels, so I hope your wish will come true soon. But there are two others right now publishing. They are with small literary presses, so you probably won't have heard of them but they deserve to be more widely known. Marcie Rendon has written two now, and Frances Washburn has written one. I think you would like both of these authors.

Susan C Shea said...

Qwei Quartey writes crime fiction set in Ghana.

Susan C Shea said...

If it doesn't have to be crime fiction, there are many Ugandan authors whose work is available in English.

Sabrina said...

Have you read Arthur Upfield? He was English/Australian and wrote about Queensland. His crime solver is a half caste aborigine. Also Chelsea Quinn Yarbro wrote 5 books with "hero" Charlie Moon, a Ojibwa Indian. In 2019 Soniah Kamal published a wonderful Pakistani version of Pride and Prejudice - Unmarriageable.

- Robin (aka Sabrina)

catriona said...

Sue, I've got Oyinkin Braithwaite's novel on my TBR pile - but thank you for the other suggestions!

Sabrina - wonderful suggestions. Thank you!

Susan Kwei Quartey seems to be a name I need to check out.

And Linda - thank you. Lovely to hear from you, my friend.

Ann, I will take you up on the offer of a long heart heart about those stories.

Canberra Dilettante said...

Hmmm - if you’re looking for “own voices” I’m afraid Upfield is very far from being one. But Oprah’s Book Club might recommend him...