South 2 North


What is the universal appeal of a good crime novel?

No subject is off limits – Redi Tlhabi talks frankly to inspiring and intriguing personalities from across the world.

This week on South2North Redi speaks to Kenyan crime writer and poet Professor Mukoma Wa Ngugi, Malaysian lawyer-turned-crime-author Professor Shamini Flint and Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin.

Though often snubbed by Western book critics, the global popularity of these crime writers’ novels show that readers feel differently.

Rankin starts by explaining the universal appeal of the genre and why more writers are exploring it.

“Young authors are attracted to crime fiction in a way they weren’t in the past because they find things in the crime thriller that they don’t necessarily get … from the literary novel. You get a great sense of place, you get a sense of big moral questions, you can talk about corruption in both low and high places, politics, the economy – nothing is off limits to the crime novel.”

Flint, who is best known for her crime fiction novel series Inspector Singh Investigates, used her novels to break away from a view of Asia that she was not comfortable with the West depicting.

“What I found was that most of the literature coming out of India was always the grand historical novel, and it always had people whose lives were determined by fate. You know they were born, a soothsayer would come along and say ‘Oh things are going to be bad for you kid’ and it was that sort of novel. It’s so un-Asian, because Asians are the least likely people to be thinking about history because we are very forward looking as a people. We are least likely to not have self-will, and yet these books always seem to be about people who are not in control of their own fate. And quite frankly I was tired of stories of stoic grandmothers and things of that nature. My grandmother was not in the least [bit] stoic so I didn’t believe them for a second.”

Wa Ngugi believes that language and narratives need to be spread to the West as well as between cultures of the global South. He is involved in projects that translate English books into Kiswahili and Kikuyu.

“I do believe as a writer I have a duty, even though I am trying to reach a universal audience I still have a duty to my language. What does it mean to be fluent, and to carry these worlds in us, in a language that is not mine? Shouldn’t I enrich my own language? Right now I am enriching the English language, extending English literature; shouldn’t I do this for my language as well?”

This week’s panel discusses dealing with the critics and ‘tourism board’ depictions of their countries and why everybody loves a good maverick.

From the producer’s desk

Senior producer Josefine Volqvartz writes:

There was a time when Ian Rankin was not the household name he is today.

His crime thrillers set in Scotland were seen as ‘unorthodox’. Seedy characters from the Scottish underworld replaced traditional posh English detectives solving murder mysteries in which the butler was usually responsible.

Today Rankin is, of course, among the top-selling crime authors in the world and with the recent success of Scandi-noir it is clear the demand for inventive crime narratives is growing. In this show, we quiz Rankin as well as crime writers from Africa and Asia.


South2North can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Friday: 1930; Saturday: 1430; Sunday: 0430; Monday: 0830.