When I started publishing crime fiction in 2009, I thought I’d finished with the political novel. Instead, increasingly since then, I’ve found that the crime novel has become the new political novel, certainly in South Africa. And by crime novel I mean the broad spread from police procedurals through PIs to gangster and espionage thrillers. Whatever path you take, a state in deep trouble very soon determines the shape of the story.
In an article in The Guardian in April Val McDermid distinguished between the crime novel and the thriller: giving the former a leftish slant, and seeing the latter as conservative in its approach.
In South Africa, the distinction is, if anything, the other way round. Certainly the police procedural by dint of being exactly that could be said to align itself with the state, no matter how it might question the operations of the cops; while the thriller is more inclined to expose and trade in the duplicity, the secrecy, the paranoia that characterises a government looting the state coffers.
When I look at what is happening in South Africa it is difficult not to see a state teetering towards failure. A failure that is of government making because of incompetence, greed, corruption, an arrogance that has become ever more threatening. We have a power utility that cannot provide a constant source of electricity, a handicap which has rippled through the economy slashing the growth rate; we have an education system that has failed to provide the skills we need; we have a health crisis. Huge unemployment and a tax base too small to support the population add to the woes.
This is the background against which I write. To write in South Africa has long been to write against the state. Nothing has changed. And given these conditions my own occupations in Power Play are to combine the crime novel and the thriller. Without doubt this hybrid offers a way into a more cogent critique of the state than any other.
With Power Play I’ve tried to show how the new colonisers – the Chinese – are insidiously creeping into the economy and influencing our political decisions, and how this is leading to corruption in high places. Combine that with organised crime and there’s a tinderbox. Ironically, in the rules of detective fiction drawn up by Ronald Knox in 1929, rule five stated: ‘No Chinaman must figure in the story’. Nowadays it’s impossible to imagine a crime story without one.
Power Play is published by Old Street Publishing
For more info about SA crime fiction visit my blog Crime Beat at http://crimebeat.bookslive.co.za/