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Alec Charles, University of WinchesterAs the nights draw in and we spend more time indoors, autumn can be a good time to get stuck into the literary world’s latest murder mysteries. And the last few months have seen the publication of major new works by some of the genre’s most respected authors.
So here are half a dozen recommendations that might help to keep you warm – or at least offer the homeliest of chills – on an evening in.
London Bridge is Falling Down by Christopher Fowler
Long trailed as the final outing for Christopher Fowler’s duo of decrepit detectives, Arthur Bryant and John May, the 20th book in a saga that started in 2004 answers a lot of the series’ unanswered (and unasked) questions.
Fowler has recently hinted that this might not be quite the end for these stalwarts of London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit, whose adventures the series follows from the Blitz to the present day, through an extraordinarily erudite exploration of the mythic geography of the metropolis. Let’s pray there’s a little more life to be drawn out of these enthralling creations of Fowler’s absurdly fertile imagination.
A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz
This third novel in Anthony Horowitz’s chronicles of the adventures of private investigator, Daniel Hawthorne, again sees a fictionalised version of the author himself play biographer to the enigmatic consulting detective. He is Watson to Hawthorne’s Holmes, although he likes him rather less: while Hawthorne’s self-assured brilliance enchants others, it constantly infuriates Horowitz himself.
Set on the island of Alderney, Horowitz’s witty and crafty narrative is as evocative of the detachment and claustrophobia of rural isolation as last year’s Moonflower Murders: “The road didn’t seem to go anywhere. In the distance, a hillside rose steeply, blocking anything that might tell me which century I was actually in”. Unputdownable stuff.
1979 by Val McDermid
Late revisions to Val McDermid’s previous novel, published last August, brought us extraordinarily up to date with a Scotland teetering on the verge of the pandemic. By contrast, her latest work harks back to four decades before COVID-19. Her tale of dodgy dealings in 1970s Glasgow, set against a backdrop of familiarly fervent independence controversies, introduces her latest heroine, the bright and determined young reporter Allie Burns.
Burns is a breath of fresh air, from her first appearance on a snowbound train returning to the city from a family Christmas, she is eminently sympathetic, engaging and likeable. And she doesn’t yet bear the baggage of McDermid’s long-running protagonists Carol Jordan and Karen Pirie (at least not to begin with).
McDermid invokes the shoddy, gloomy zeitgeist of the late seventies with her characteristic deftness of touch: “blizzards, strikes, unburied bodies, power cuts, terrorist threats and Showaddywaddy’s Greatest Hits topping the album charts; 1979 was a cascade of catastrophe”.
The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman
Richard Osman’s debut novel, The Thursday Murder Club, was the publishing phenomenon of 2020. That book was both clever and funny, but more importantly it was reassuringly parochial: a conundrum worthy of the golden age of detective fiction, investigated by an emphatically charming group of residents of a retirement community.
Osman’s writing is reminiscent, in its tone and textual economy, of Sophie Hannah’s splendid reboot of Hercule Poirot (as ingenious as Christie but rather more nuanced and progressive). His sequel, a tale of stolen diamonds, involving the Mafia, MI5 and multiple murders, all kicked off by “an invitation from a dead man”, has just come out, and will likely send Penguin’s printing presses into overdrive.
A Change of Circumstance by Susan Hill
October sees the publication of the 11th book in Susan Hill’s series of Simon Serrailler novels. Hill’s elegant provincial cop may be the most rounded of today’s fictional detectives. As with P. D. James’s Adam Dalgleish, it seems the author herself is a little enamoured of her dashing but troubled hero – romantically misguided and prone to a perhaps unnecessary degree of listlessness.
As she drags him onto another emotional rollercoaster, her readers surely cannot fail to share that bittersweet attachment. Approaching her 80th birthday in February next year, Hill’s writing has lost none of its immediate relevance and urgency – this time focusing upon the impacts of county lines drug-running networks. Fans of the series will find the prospect of an update on the lives of its central characters absolutely irresistible.
Birdman by Mo Hayder
In July, British fiction suffered the loss of one its most compelling and commanding voices. If there is to be any consolation from Mo Hayder’s death, at the age of 59, then let it be that it might draw a new generation of readers to her work.
The best place to start is her stunning breakthrough novel, the justly celebrated Birdman, published at the turn of the millennium. The opening ordeal for her problematic protagonist, Detective Inspector Jack Caffery, offers readers a gripping ride – one that makes the darkest of Nordic noir look decidedly beige by comparison. Hayder’s work will take you through autumn, to winter and beyond.
Tinashe Mushakavanhu, University of the WitwatersrandZimbabwe born artist Kudzanai Chiurai is a phenomenon. He is one of the most challenging and inventive figures in contemporary African art. From large scale photos of fictional African dictators to experimental films and protest posters, rich oil paintings and minimal sculptures, his work is housed in the world’s top galleries and collections.
Chiurai, though, frequently shrugs off gallery spaces to show in warehouses, on the street or in urban locations. His latest project, The Library of Things We Forgot to Remember, is housed in a boutique shopping complex, 44 Stanley, in Johannesburg. It is built around his collecting practice focused on preserving archives and memorialising social and cultural history from southern Africa. He’s turned his own personal library and archive into a public art project.
It’s an idea informed by Chiurai’s obsessive interest in history and accumulation of artefacts such as books, pamphlets, zines, newspapers, vinyl records, political posters, audio recordings and other ephemera – materials that explore the relationship between cultural production and social movements.
The work takes a pointedly nontraditional approach to archivism. The selection and acquisition is determined by interaction. It is managed as a kind of commons where people can share and benefit from the artist’s collection and what is donated by others. Whereas most archives and libraries stress the preservation of materials, Chiurai’s library promotes access, physical engagement, and active use of the materials to maintain their continued relevance.
The library reflects Chiurai’s artistic repertoire, which deploys the use of mixed media to address social, political and cultural issues. It calls to mind his groundbreaking 2011 exhibition State of the Nation which explored conflict by constructing an African utopia that enabled him to merge forms and mediums, juxtapose political ideas, evoke historical figures – like a speech by slain Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba delivered by artist Zaki Ibrahim – alongside a performance by contemporary musician Thandiswa Mazwai.
In his work Chiurai imagines new ways to activate, share, present and reinvent the archives, as he does with his latest project, the library.
Initially, in 2017, The Library of Things We Forgot to Remember was of no fixed abode, usually incorporated into the artist’s own exhibitions. But the concept of a mobile library was altered by the COVID-19 pandemic, which restricted movement and live events. The library is about gathering, not just materials, but people. It is supposed to be a meeting place.
Now, Chiurai also invites others to curate this archive, to re-arrange it for regular public viewing in a rented space. He considers the library to be:
Itself a form of liberated zone. It functions independently – I find a different librarian every time … and different people see the process of cataloguing differently. Some look at it visually, and some aurally – and so different librarians bring different things to my attention.
The library includes the artist’s extensive collection of vinyl records associated with liberation movements in southern Africa from the 1970s-80s, notably Zimbabwean Chimurenga and South African anti-apartheid struggle music. There are also recordings of speeches by historical political figures such as Ian Smith, Kwame Nkrumah, Mobutu Sese Seko, Dr Martin Luther King and even a dramatic re-enactment of the trial of Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale.
The collection has continued to grow. In 2018 it obtained digital recordings from the US-based educational project, Freedom Archives – radio interviews with political figures and women involved in the liberation movements in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia, Guinea- Bissau, as well as the US civil rights movement. Other materials are donated by individuals and institutions.
Accordingly, Chiurai treats these traces of struggle with great care. Some of these historical documents and posters are now framed and hung on the white walls. Once, these materials chronicled life in Black Africa or Black America as it happened. Now, they are artefacts of frozen moments in history. His library is conceived as a place of contemplation and reflection. There is a big green couch and listening stations.
The art of remembering
The Library of Things We Forgot to Remember is part of an effort to expand ideas of what a library can be and its decolonisation. It is an extension of new ways people are using the ‘library’ as a place of inquiry and conversation with the past.
Perhaps, what is fascinating is that Chiurai’s library is not static, but re-arranges in the hands of a guest librarian, and has travelled from its first iteration in Harare, to Cape Town, Kalmar, Södertälje and Johannesburg. Previous librarians have been the political writing platform Chimurenga in Harare, writer and DJ El Corazone in Cape Town, and film director and deejay Sifiso Khanyile in Johannesburg.
What Chiurai is doing is to incubate a new model for artistic creation and knowledge production that interferes with the circulation, display and preservation of cultural objects. Who has a right to assign value? Who decides what is history? What kinds of materials should be collected? How can access be expanded to new publics?
Visitors also have a responsibility. They are not just passive observers, but collaborators, interpreters, and readers. The library becomes a place of provocation that allows multiple registers of value, because value is negotiated. It’s also about the reinvention of the library as a space for multiple forms of contemplation. It is still a destination for artists, scholars, curators, and collectors to research and engage with southern African history.
Remembering is a virtue that Chiurai extols. In Black communities it is often an expensive luxury, a privilege. But through this new space arranged in the form of a hybrid gallery, community center, library and archive, remembering is translated into a collective process of reimagining and of sharing heritage. It is also testament of the generosity behind Chiurai’s art practice, of care and community.
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