African Mystery Fiction Analysis

Native African Writers

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

The mystery and detective fiction genre is yet relatively unexplored by black African writers. African authors who write about crime in their continent tend to focus on themes that deplore colonialism and its aftermath—the loss of traditional ways, civil wars, political corruption, exploitation, genocide, and retribution. They often depict clashes between traditional systems of justice and colonial systems of justice imposed on them and find subject matter in the abrupt shifts from one system to the other that almost always had disastrous consequences.

In 1958, the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, who would become one of the continent’s leading authors, published a novel that has become a modern classic: Things Fall Apart. Its story builds to a climax which sets tribal justice so sharply at odds with British colonial justice that each side sees the other as barbaric outsiders. The story concerns four crimes. The first is an accidental gun firing during a celebration that sends the main character, Okonkwo, into exile from his home under tribal law. The second is the colonial administrators’ execution of an entire village’s residents as punishment for the killing of a British soldier. The third is Okonkwo’s slaying of a British representative who challenges his village’s right to follow its own rules. The fourth, and ultimate crime, is the British colonial system’s destruction of a society’s way of life. as Okonkwo, the very best of citizens, is forced to kill himself to save his village from destruction. Okonkwo strikes out at the British invaders because it is his duty as community protector. However, British retribution threatens to destroy the village he is duty bound to defend. He thus takes his own life, a crime against himself and a forbidden act in...

(The entire section is 731 words.)