T.L. Huchu’s powerhouse new novel, The Library of the Dead, plunges readers into the dark, supernatural recesses of contemporary Edinburgh while expertly blending SFF, noir, and elements of Zimbabwean and Scottish culture. High school dropout Ropafadzo “Ropa” Moyo works as a ghostalker, ferrying messages between the worlds of the dead and the living. When penniless ghost Nicola pleads for help, Ropa heads out on a dangerous hunt to discover who—or what—is sucking the souls out of the bodies of the city’s children. With plenty of twists, turns, and genuinely eerie moments, this occult thriller is as entertaining as it is thought-provoking.
Mainstream African fiction published today leans towards the literary novel, though SFF involving Africanfuturism is growing more visible. African crime fiction, on the other hand, tends to slip under the radar, yet it is easily the most exciting genre writers from the continent are working in today. These compelling novels provide insights about the societies they are written about. There are regional differences; for example, Southern and Eastern African crime novels often feature a police detective as the main protagonist, whereas West African novels invariably default to a civilian thrust into the situation, forced to take matters into their own hands because the criminal justice system cannot be relied upon. And these novels are often gritty, dark, and unsentimental, reminiscent of pulp from the golden age of detective novels in utilizing traditional methods of detection, rather than CSI-style forensics. Their authors are also much more likely to be published across different genres, often starting elsewhere before moving into crime. Here are ten of my favorites:
The 2019 winner of the Little, Brown UEA Crime Fiction Award tells the story of Dr. Philip K. Talwo, a psychologist who is roped into investigating the lynching of three university students by a mob in a remote border town. There he has to contend with corrupt cops, university cults, cunning politicians, and dodgy locals. The result is a multilayered novel in which the investigation opens up a fascinating sociopolitical examination of contemporary Nigeria.
2. Five Nights Before the Summit by Mukuka Chipanta
A white British couple is brutally murdered days before Queen Elizabeth II is due to visit Zambia for a Commonwealth summit in 1979. Detective Maxwell Chanda, head of the Special Crimes Investigative Unit, is tasked with resolving the matter before the event takes place. The political pressure puts a ticking clock on a multifaceted investigation drawing in crucial aspects of Zambian history to paint an incredible portrait of a newly independent nation.
Call me Ishmael? Ishmael, an African American detective, travels to Kenya to catch his own whale. A murder in Maple Bluff, Wis., sets off a chain of events leading back to the Rwandan genocide. Teamed up with local detective David Odhiambo, Ishmael discovers they do law enforcement very differently in Kenya. Fast-paced and full of thrills, this novel is written for the silver screen.
4. Making Wolf by Tade Thompson
Thompson is best known for his award-winning sci-fi, but his debut is a gripping work of noir set in the fictional country of Alcacia in West Africa. London security guard Weston Kogi tells a small white lie that he is a police detective when he goes back home on holiday. He is kidnapped by rebels and tasked with investigating the murder of a beloved local hero. The result is carnage and mayhem, with a body count that makes Tarantino seem tame in comparison.
5. When Trouble Sleeps by Leye Adenle
A novel that opens with a plane crash is always going to capture the reader’s attention, and the stakes only keep ratcheting up in Adenle’s sophomore novel. In the cutthroat world of Nigerian politics, Amaka, a socially conscious investigator with a heart of gold, must outwit the sharks in her quest for justice. This always entertaining work deftly drifts between the haves and have-nots, the mansions and slums of Lagos, the powerful and the weak, blurring the lines of conventional morality.
Meyer has been called the godfather of South African crime for good reason. His novels are hard hitting critiques of the follies of the Rainbow Nation, skewering apartheid and the broken promise of its aftermath. In this installment, the alcoholic detective Benny Griessel untangles a web of deceit and intrigue while walking the tightrope of the country’s fraught racial politics.
There’s always something compelling about a lead character who’s been brought low. Makana, a former Sudanese police inspector forced to flee to Cairo, is now struggling to make ends meet as a private detective. While the case is about a missing soccer star, Cairo and its culture steal the show. Writing under a pen name, acclaimed novelist Jamal Mahjoub delivers stunning prose, crafting a moody atmosphere for the drama to play out in.
8. All Come to Dust by Bryony Rheam
Murdered white people are problematic for detectives across the continent—they’re harder for law enforcement to ignore. In this stunning crime debut, Chief Inspector Edmund Dube must investigate the murder of Marcia Pullman, which dredges up a mystery from his own childhood. Interwoven into the narrative is the story of a nation that has lost its way. Agatha Christie readers will love this book, and that’s not just because Rheam won the “Write Your Own Christie” competition in 2015.
9. The Lazarus Effect by H. J. Golakai
A main character coping with psychological trauma manifesting in blackouts makes for a fascinating lead, especially when she is an investigative journalist. Voinjama Johnson is a Liberian reporter based in Cape Town and she uses visions, intuition, and sheer doggedness to investigate the disappearance of a teenager. This novel has a gripping plot that twists and turns, but never ties itself in knots. Golakai’s prose can be affecting amidst dark depictions of the South African underworld.
Braithwaite’s smash hit debut needs little introduction to a wider readership. Twin sisters Korede and Ayoola hide a dark secret—Ayoola’s boyfriends keep disappearing. Comical, compelling, and supremely well-written, this novel stretches sisterly love to its limits as Korede has to jump through hoops to protect her sibling from discovery. And when her sister’s next potential victim is the man Korede loves, things get a bit complicated. This fizzy page-turner charms and astounds in equal measure.