Category Archives: Crime fiction and film from Africa

MIFF 2013 progress report #2: Death for Sale and Grigris

death-for-saleMy second Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) progress report looks at Death for Sale, which played as part of MIFF’s ‘New Arabic Cinema’ section, and the French/Chadian gangster movie, Grigris.

First up, Death For Sale. I loved everything about this Arabic take on the classic heist movie.

The setting is the working class port town of Tetouan, at the northern edge of Morocco. The film opens with two men, Malik and Soufiane, waiting outside a prison for the release of their friend, Allal, who has been inside for several years on drug trafficking charges.

Each of three men is dealing with their own issues. Malik lives with his sister, mother and a stepfather who he hates. He’s also got a major crush on Dounia, a femme fatale-type hostess at the town’s sole upmarket nightclub. Soufiane is a poor orphan who lives in the dormitory of a home for boys. Allal lives with his alcoholic father and positively seethes with unrealised criminal ambition.

Life is tough in Tetouan and every one does whatever they can to get by. The three men bag snatch when they can, Malik’s sister steals from the garment factory she works in, and Dounia whores herself. Life looks like it will go on, a slow burn of frustration and petty crime, until a police crackdown results in a large chunk of Tetouan’s underworld, including Dounia, being imprisoned.… Read more

Crime time at the 2013 Melbourne International Film Festival

grisgrisThe Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) approaches and, and as was the case in 2012, the good people at MIFF HQ have been good enough to give me media accreditation to cover some of the crime films on the program.

When I started to write this piece on my crime cinema picks for MIFF 2013, I realised nearly all my choices were films set outside of the Anglo world. This is in line with my usual practice of viewing films that I think are unlikely to get a mainstream release here. But it also reflects my growing interest in how developing or countries from the global South view and define crime cinema and crime and noir narratives.


One of my favourites from MIFF 2011 was the Congalese film Viva Rivathe story of a small-time gangster who returns from neighbouring Angola with a truckload of stolen petrol he hopes to sell Kinshasa at top dollar. I’m hoping that Grigis, a 2011 France/Chad coproduction is as good.

Directed by French-Chadian Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, it focuses on a young physically handicapped Chadian man who earns a living as a photographer and dancer in nightclubs, but yearns to make enough money to pay Mimi, one of the hostesses in the bar he works in, to marry him.… Read more

Book review: Silent Valley

International crime fiction sometimes feels like a contest between the Scandinavians and the Irish. If so, the South Africans are closing ground on both of them.

Think of writers like Margie Orford, Roger Smith and Mike Nicol, just to name a few.

Although less well known, Swaziland born, Australia-based author Malla Nunn deserves a place among this group. Silent Valley is her third book, set in fifties South Africa and featuring the character of Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper.

Her first book, A Beautiful Place to Die (2008) won rave reviews. It involved Cooper investigating the murder of a prominent Afrikaner policeman Captain Willem Pretorius, in the small town of Jacob’s Rest on South Africa’s border with Mozambique.

Her second, Let the Dead Lie (2010) saw Cooper expelled from the police and reduced to working on the docks of Durban. It didn’t do nearly so well (although I’ve heard some very good reports about it).

Silent Valley sees Cooper back in the force and in familiar territory, investigating the murder of a young girl – the bride to be of a powerful, overbearing Zulu chief, in a remote part of South Africa. There’s a truckload of suspects, everyone from the head of the local police to members of the white family she worked for as a domestic, with a bit of black magic and sexual deviancy thrown into the mix for good measure.… Read more

Pulp Friday: mercenary pulp

This week’s Pulp Friday is a selection of covers from the seething, sweaty, bloody, intrigue laden world of mercenary pulp.

I picked them celebrate the fact that I have a story in issue 2 of Blood and Tacos, which launches today, called ‘Bastard Mercenary: Operation Scorpion Sting’. Well, it’s not my story. It was written by a guy called Arch Saxon, one of the mainstays of the local pulp fiction scene in the seventies and eighties.

I discovered Saxon living in a down at heel rooming house in Brunswick, while researching a piece for this site. After he’d drunk his own body weight in beer and caged a hundred dollars off me, he agreed to let me submit a story of his featuring his little known creation Bruce ‘Boomer’ Kelly to Johnny Shaw’s Blood and Tacos series.

Kelly aka Bastard Mercenary is hard-bitten Bangkok-based Australian mercenary who’ll undertake any job so long as the beer is cold and the money right. Much like Saxon himself.

The rest as they say is history.

Blood and Tacos is an affectionate homage to the crazy, over the top world of late seventies, eighties pulp fiction. A time when titles such as Penetrator, The Liquidator, Death Merchant, Black Samurai and The Executioner rubbed muscular shoulders with each other on the pulp paperback rack of the local newsagency.… Read more

Jungle Jim

You’ve probably heard of Jungle Jim, the nickname for the Asia-based hunter Jim Bradley, who featured in a series of fictional adventures starting in 1934. Jungle Jim battled pirates, slave traders and other assorted jungle foes on radio and in print.

He was later re-tooled for a series of 16 B movies set in Africa and starring Johnny Weissmuller.

Odds are, however, you probably haven’t heard of Jungle Jim, the Cape Town based bimonthly magazine that publishes crime, horror and genre tales penned by writers from all over the African continent.

Stumbling across things sites like Jungle Jim is one of the reasons I love the Internet.

When I first saw this in mid-2011, I immediately contacted the editors and asked them to send me some samples of their mag so I could review them for this site. They quickly sent me issues 5 through to 8 (issue 10 is about to come out).

I’ve finally got around to reading them and what a ride. The stories in Jungle Jim capture the incredible mystery, beauty and harshness of life in Africa minus the ‘Kony 2012′ cliches and Western condescension.

‘The End When It Comes’ by Werner Pretorius (issue 5), concerns a waitress in the tiny town of Kaiser Bay who picks up a drifter who is much more than he seems.… Read more