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the Complete Review
the complete review - literary criticism

     

Detective Fiction
and the African Scene


by
Linus Asong


general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Detective Fiction and the African Scene



Title: Detective Fiction and the African Scene
Author: Linus Asong
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2012
Length: 56 pages
Availability: Detective Fiction and the African Scene - US
Detective Fiction and the African Scene - UK
Detective Fiction and the African Scene - Canada
Detective Fiction and the African Scene - India
  • From the 'Whodunit ?' to the 'Whydunit ?'

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Our Assessment:

(-) : decent introductory overview, but only goes so far

See our review for fuller assessment.




The complete review's Review:

       Detective Fiction and the African Scene is fairly limited in its ambit: the reference point is largely what even Asong acknowledges is a: "now geriatric school" of mystery masters, from Poe to Christie, Chandler, Simenon, and Erle Stanley Gardner (but practically no one more current), and of the four African novels presented as case studies the most recently published is Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's 1977 Petals of Blood. Asong also acknowledges that the detective-figures in some of his examples play only very limited roles in the works -- to the extent that in Petals of Blood the role of Inspector Godfrey: "must seem negligible enough to exclude the work from the class of detective novels."
       Clearly, then, Asong's monograph is not meant as a comprehensive survey of the genre and subject-matter, and, indeed, the subtitle, From the 'Whodunit ?' to the 'Whydunit ?' is a more precise description of his aims.
       Asong begins with a discussion of the genre and its reputation, noting a widespread (but in his opinion undeserved) lack of respect for it. It's a rather big subject to tackle, and here too with a focus on (and references to) sources that are not contemporary leaves it feeling somewhat behind the times, or at least not quire current. Even if somewhat appropriate, given that the African works he then turns to are also from earlier eras, this is certainly one part of his essay that could have followed through to present-day examples and thinking -- insofar also as that would have offered further support for a central point he makes, that this is a genre that offers writers many opportunities and isn't nearly as limited as it is sometimes made out to be.
       The four case studies Asong offers are Petals of Blood, Mongo Beti's Perpetua and the Habit of Unhappiness (1974), Doris Lessing's The Grass is Singing (1950), and Ousmane Sembène's Xala (1975). [Asong chooses to quote from the original French versions of Mongo Beti's and Ousmane Sembène's books; given how short these quotes are, this isn't really an issue, but it would have been helpful for him to at least acknowledge that these texts are also available in English translation (and to note their titles).] His brief discussions are clear and to the point, and do support the argument he makes -- which can be summed as:

they are not pure social novels; they are psycho-social novels in which psycho-sociological factors are used to explain crime.
       (They also, as he also makes clear (and is quite self-evident) do not neatly fit the 'detective fiction' or mystery paradigm, either.)
       So:
in the African scene presented here, the emphasis is distinctively on "WHY".; Instead of the WHODUNIT we have the WHYDUNIT. The plots of the stories are built principally around the psycho-sociological mainsprings of the crimes.
       His point, and his demonstration, is well-taken -- but it is a shame that he has not expanded his thesis and seen it through to the present-day, as the rapid evolution of African literature (and the subset of 'detective fiction' that fits his definitions) surely allows for a much broader consideration of these (and other) issues. As is, Detective Fiction and the African Scene is not much more than a longish academic paper with a fairly limited focus.

       [Note also that, while on the whole a decently produced monograph, Detective Fiction and the African Scene does not meet the likely requirements of its surely largely academic audience in parts of its presentation. Specifically, the bibliography bears only limited resemblance to the citations in the text proper, leaving readers to hunt down source-references for themselves. In the first pages alone, the cited (but generally only by publication date and page number, not title) works from which quotes by N.J.Tremblay, J.W.Kruth, Amy Lowell, Louis Untermeyer, T.S.Eliot, and Robert Hillyer are taken can not be found in the bibliography.]

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 July 2012

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Links:

Detective Fiction and the African Scene: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Cameroonian author Linus Asong was born in 1947. He teaches at the University of Yaounde 1 (ENS Bambili).

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© 2012 the complete review

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