Botswana and Beyond: Mysteries Set In Africa South Of The Sahara
Lots of people, including me, are fond of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, set in Botswana, and featuring the wise, traditionally minded investigator Mma Precious Ramotswe. These cozy mysteries take place in and around Gaborone, the capital--an exotic locale for Americans, naturally. Human nature is human nature, though, and Mma Ramotswe, like Miss Marple, uses her insights into it to figure out solutions to her cases. Her old-fashioned kindness and courtesy are typical of Botswanans, according to Alexander McCall Smith, the author of these books.
Jay MacDonald of BookPage Reviews writes:
Smith's fondness for the country and its people shines through in the upbeat, optimistic tone of the series. While some critics praise him for the deceptively simple way he casually reveals human truths, others accuse him of portraying Africa through rose-colored glasses.
"People say that I'm putting forth a saccharine view, which actually isn't fair," he says. "What I'm doing is talking about a side of reality that is definitely there but isn't normally reported. There's an awful lot of bad news that comes out of Africa, the failure of the political systems and rampant corruption and the resulting suffering of the people. All of that is there, but there is obviously another side."
African Mysteries To Choose From
Since I love mysteries and can hardly say no to a book about Africa, I got to wondering what other African mysteries I could find. Most are not as cheerful as McCall Smith's, but after reading one of his books, you may want an antidote anyway.
- A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn, 2009.
This is a terrific police procedural by a South African writer, which takes place in the 1950's, at the outset of apartheid; the color bar plays a part in this thriller, which involves some violence. I look forward to the next installment.
- The Witch Doctor's Wife by Tamar Myers, 2009.
Myers grew up in the Belgian Congo as the daughter of missionaries; here she begins a new series with the tale of a young white American missionary who is sent to a diamond-mining community there, about 50 years ago, and the Africans she comes to know.Error!
- Wife of the Gods by Kwei J. Quartey, 2009.
This one is a contemporary police procedural featuring a detective with a well developed character and a story which highlights the conflicts between traditional Ghanaian culture and modern views; the author is a physician from Ghana who now lives in L.A. I highly recommend this book.
- The Constant Gardener by John Le Carré, 2001.
Since the end of the Cold War, Le Carré has had to find new themes for his books; this one is set in Kenya and shows Le Carré, once ambivalent about both sides in his spy novels, to be passionate about social justice. Also a movie.
- Detective Kubu mysteries, Michael Stanley.
A different, grittier Botswana is portrayed in this new series than the one we recall from reading Alexander McCall Smith; here a South African writing team introduces a police detective who must deal with politics and corruption as well as the vagaries of human nature.
- Jade del Cameron mysteries, Suzanne Arruda.
Jade is an independent American who has recently driven an ambulance in WWI; she goes to Kenya to get over her experiences in Europe and finds that there is no escaping death--or love.
Vaughn Harrison works at the Half Moon Bay Library and on the Bookmobile. She has family connections to West Africa.