Crime Across Cultures

Special 2013 “Crime Across Cultures” issue of Moving Worlds: A Journal of Transcultural Writings

Crime across Cultures

The “Crime Across Cultures” issue of Moving Worlds” seeks to examine how discourses of crime and criminality are produced in a global context that extends well beyond the cloisters of Orwell’s English middle class. We ask how writers and cultural practitioners from around the world have diversified the crime writing genre, moving beyond the detective novel in order to experiment with a variety of media including short fiction, television, performance, visual art and graffiti.”

See below for full Contents.

The contributors to “Crime Across Cultures” include one of Crimeculture’s editors, Kate Horsley:  the introductory paragraphs from her article are extracted here.

From Kate Horsley, “Contemporary African Crime Writing: Interrogations of Society in the Work of McClure, Meyer, Dow and Quartey”:

There has been growing critical interest in the changing representation of African characters and settings in the work of non-African white crime writers.   For example, in a 2012 study, The Foreign in International Crime Writing: Transcultural Representations, the editors (Carolina Miranda, Barbara Pezzotti and Jean Anderson) and the contributors analyse the shift from an earlier fictional obsession with ‘foreign devils’ who must be deciphered and investigated by white detective figures to a guilty fascination with the corruption of Africans by unprincipled Westerners in the work of recent non-African writers like John Le Carré, author of Congo-set The Mission Song (2006), analysed in Sabine Vanacker’s excellent piece (‘“A Desk is a Dangerous Place from which to Watch the World”: Britishness and Foreignness in le Carré’s Karla Trilogy’, in The Foreign in International Crime Writing, Continuum, 2012, pp. 22-34). My own analysis will focus on African writing, exploring the novels of four recent crime writers whose work represents a range of perspectives on African society: James McClure, Deon Meyer, Kwei Quartey and Unity Dow. There has as yet been relatively little close, sustained analysis of contemporary African crime writing. Critics often casually mention such writers only in order to point a contrast with Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series or to argue that Smith has ‘opened the door’ for African crime writers whose work bears little relation to the Golden Age conventions associated with ‘the Miss Marple of Botswana’ (Mike Nicol, ‘Crime Beat: African Crime Fiction – a US ViewMystery Readers Journal, special Africa edition, 3 May 2010).  The aim here is to provide more detailed insights into the work of four writers who are redefining the genre, and whose work exemplifies significant contrasts within the emerging traditions of specifically African crime writing.

Detective fiction has remained a resilient and versatile genre because of its capacity to raise difficult questions about corruption and moral failure.  It represents the investigation of individual crimes but can also work to expose the failures, traumas and brutalities of political and social life.  Peter Baker and Deborah Shaller rightly describe readers immersed in such narratives as attempting to achieve not only ‘a careful reconstruction of the events’ but ‘a realistic judgment of guilt and moral responsibility’ (Detecting Detection, Continuum, 2012, p. xiii). The investigative structure is ideally suited to the unearthing of previously invisible crimes against a people; Ed Christian observes that ‘as a genre, detective fiction often moves from the interrogation of suspects to the interrogation of society’ (‘Ethnic Postcolonial Crime and Detection (Anglophone)’, A Companion to Crime Fiction, eds, Charles Rzepka and Lee Horsley, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, p. 284). It is readily adaptable to the exploration of links between political upheaval and what Vigdis Broch-Due calls ‘the routinised forms of violence in everyday life: how violence infiltrates not just public, political arenas but the most intimate spaces of the personal also’ (Violence and Belonging, Routledge, 2004, p. 2). As Christian observes, within a postcolonial context the most forceful detective fiction is often that which focuses on the residual corruption and the cultural rifts that can linger on for decades.  In tackling these ingrained problems, fictional detectives employ methods which themselves embody some of the underlying conflicts and contradictions of a postcolonial society.  Are they to rely on Western investigative techniques or on their own cultural intuitions and experience?  They occupy, in Homi K. Bhabha’s terms, a liminal space within which their choices can constitute an extension of colonial control and oppression or an expression of resistance, accompanied by a reliance on indigenous knowledge.

As African crime fiction has developed, conflicting investigative techniques have often been thrown into relief in narratives that centre on crimes that involve superstition and suspicion of supernatural forces at work – crimes that seem outside the capacity of rationalism to understand, except by explaining away all that appears to contradict a reasoned ‘Western’ intellectual framework.  Frankie Bailey points out, analysing early twentieth-century African-American crime fiction, that spiritualism was a pervasive element, as evidenced by Rudolph Fisher’s The Conjure-Man Dies (1932), in which ‘African spiritualism meets American science…’ (‘African-American Detection and Crime Fiction’, A Companion to Crime Fiction, p. 274). I will look at the different ways in which contemporary African crime writers have explored this binary, navigating the borderland between superstition and logic, intuition and police procedure, reflecting troubled societies in the representation both of investigators and of the nature of the crimes committed.  Earlier writers such as Canadian-born John Wyllie (in his Dr. Quarshie novels, published between 1975 and 1981) tended to set up encounters with the supernatural that terminated in the discovery of rationally explicable causes: when Quarshie finds that that the crime has no relationship to the uncanny, his logical debunking of local superstition validates Western investigative structures. In contrast, Unity Dow, a Botswanian writer whose novel The Screaming of the Innocent was published in 2002, situates her narrative entirely within the subjectivity of her characters. The question of superstition is unresolved at the end, leaving the reader a good deal more unsettled as a consequence.

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The above extract is from Kate Horsley’s article in Crime across Cultures, Volume 13 Number 1.  To read the rest of the article, and the issue as a whole, visit the site of the Moving Worlds journal, where individual issues of  can be obtained.

CONTENTS of “Crime across Cultures”, Moving Worlds, Volume 13 Number 1

EDITORIAL

  • Lucy Evans & Mandala White

FICTION

  • COURTTIA NEWLAND, Spitting
  • PATRICK EVANS, The Back of His Head 

INTERVIEWS

  • ISABELLE DE LE COURT, Crime, Traces, and Memories: A Conversation with Paola Yacoub
  • JOHN MCLEOD, London Crossings: Meeting Mike Phillips

ARTICLES

  • ALISTAIR STEAD, Comedy in Detective Fiction
  • NEIL MURPHY, Crimes of Elegance: Benjamin Black’s Impersonation of 
John Banville
  • DAVID PLATTEN, Mediatized Realities: The Modern Crime Narrative
  • CHRISTIANA GREGORIOU, The Televisual Game is On: The Stylistics of 
the BBC’s Modern-Day Sherlock
  • KATE HORSLEY, Interrogations of Society in Contemporary African 
Crime Writing
  • JIAYING CAI, Qiu Xiaolong and Linda Fairstein: Representations of Crime 
Sites in Shanghai and New York
  • ANDREW PEPPER, Henning Mankell: Political Reactionary
  • JAK PEAKE, Rebels for Justice: Pirates, Prostitutes, Maroons and Fugitives in 
Nineteenth-Century Trinidad
  • ISABELLE DE LE COURT, Witnessing Beside the Forgotten: 
Maja Bajevic´’s Women at Work
  • RIVKE JAFFE, Visual Culture and Criminal Iconization in Kingston, Jamaica: 
A Photo-Essay
  • ‘PALAS POR PISTOLAS’, One Gun, One Shovel, One Tree

REVIEWS

  • by Lim Lee Ching, Wernmei Yong Ade

Moving Worlds is a biannual international magazine, and is a forum for creative work as well as criticism, literary as well as visual texts. Each issue highlights a particular theme and also carries material of general interest. The journal is internationally refereed and is published by Moving Worlds at the School of English, University of Leeds, UK, and School of Humanities and Social Sciences, NTU, Singapore.