I have never read any of Agatha Christie’s crime novels. In fact I never paid any attention to the crime/mystery novel genre until I recently started reading Ian Rankin’s novels. Set in Edinburgh, Scotland, the novels have a gritty quality that is way more interesting than the “brigadoon” atmosphere of other Scottish novels. It was short step from Ian Rankin’s Scotland to Henning Mankell’s Wallander series and Stieg Larsson’s – Girl with the Dragoon Tattoo – tales of murder and mayhem in Sweden. The common thread in these novels is the role of a central protagonist. For Ian Rankin it is Inspector John Rebus, for Henning Mankell it’s Inspector Kurt Wallander and Stieg Larsson has the journalist Michael Bloomkvist doing the honors. All of these characters seem to verge on the edge of being dysfunctional yet get the job done. The crimes are solved and justice, more or less, prevails. So, true to form the ex-BBC journalist Richard Crompton has stepped into the crime novel genre with a, yet again, slightly dysfunctional “hero” in the first Detective Mollel novel. But there is a twist. The novel Hour of the Red God is set in Nairobi, Kenya in 2007 during the turmoil of the much disputed general elections. At first glance a former Maasai warrior, complete with tribal scars, seems to be a little unbelievable as a detective. However, once the novel gets rolling it is easy to set aside any misgivings while Detective Mollel pursues the investigation of the murder of a prostitute. The Hour of the Red God is a gritty novel with a particular mix of tribal and urban elements set against the street riots and violence of the elections. The jagged view of life that is the trademark of Ian Rankin’s John Rebus is also reflected in Mollel’s struggle with his own issues set against the inter-tribal conflicts and corruption that are very much a curse on the African political landscape. The novel navigates its way through many twists and turns in the political and social milieu before the crime is finally solved. This writer, in this his first novel, is a worthy addition to the crime/mystery genre. It is available from the Cranbrook and District Public Library.
One thing leads to another. So while tripping around Richard Crompton’s dark side of Kenya Paul Theroux’s travel book Dark Star Safari – Overland from Cairo to Cape Town immediately came to mind. So much so that I pulled it off my bookshelf, sat down and, over the course of a few days, re-read it. For Paul Theroux it was a return to the landscapes of his youth. He was a Peace Corp worker as a teacher in Malawi in the 1960’s. His opening line of the book “All news out of Africa is bad. It made me want to go there, not for the horror, the hot spots, the massacre-and-earthquake stories you read in the newspaper, I wanted the pleasure of being in Africa again.” After an opening like that how could you put it down? So, on returning to Africa in the early part of this century for his monumental overland trip through pretty well all the countries of East Africa he obviously has a lot to say. He revisits old friends and old landscapes, indulges in some new adventures, has some narrow escapes and reflects on an Africa that is materially more decrepit than when he first knew it. He has very few good things, if any, to say about “the agents of virtue” – the Aid Organizations and NGO that, in his opinion, are a major part of the problem. He thinks the best thing that could happen to Africa is for all foreign aid to cease and let the Africans solve their own problems. I don’t think that Paul Theroux is a particularly nice person and, I suspect, if I ever met him I would probably not like him. However, he does write marvelous travel books and, without a doubt, this is one of his finest. On closing one of his travel books my immediate reaction is “I don’t want to go there”. That is a little different from the promise offered by most travel books.