Dive into the searing world of Sunshine Noir with one of these great books.
Over the past 20 years or so, crime fiction from the Scandinavian countries has blossomed. Everywhere you look, crime fighters are braving the cold and dark to solve crimes whose perpetrators are willing to put on snow boots and coats, and wrap themselves in scarves to murder someone. In some countries, more murders are committed in a single book than actually happen in a year. Well, it is fiction after all.
In reality, it’s heat and humidity that brings out the worst in people. As the temperature rises and sweat runs down the body, they get grumpy and intolerant. Their minds become addled. Tempers flare, and people are killed, often in the most gruesome ways. That is true Noir. And justice itself is affected because it is too hot to do anything in the enervating heat. This is Sunshine Noir! After all the darkest shadows are where the sun is brightest.
The idea of Sunshine Noir came about as a reaction to Nordic Noir. It is a little tongue-in-cheek, but absolutely serious in its message that some of the best crime writers in the world set their stories where it is hot. If you want a taste of this type of story, White Sun Books recently published an anthology, titled Sunshine Noir, of 17 original short stories from hot places around the globe. Two of the stories are finalists for this year’s Crime Writers Association Short Story Dagger award.
Here’s a sample of hot writers and where they set their books.
Easy Motion Tourist (Nigeria)
by Leye Adenle
Set in Lagos, the novel tells the story of a visiting small time reporter from the UK—the easy motion tourist. Almost at once, he’s involved with the police when he tries to investigate a mutilated, murdered prostitute. At first they think it’s a black magic killing, but it turns out to run much deeper. His story is intertwined with that of a fascinating Nigerian woman who looks out for prostitutes, punishing men who abuse them.
Together, this unlikely couple has to survive both the police and powerful criminals. Part of the strength of the book is the tense and realistic interpretation of this roiling African city.
The Big Sleep (US-California)
by Raymond Chandler
The Big Sleep, published in 1939 and set in Southern California, is one of the most influential books of the 20th century. The protagonist, Philip Marlowe, is the ultimate hard-boiled Private Investigator, and Chandler’s direct style and lack of fear of writing about sex and other controversial topics had a profound impact on many mystery writers who followed. It has been adapted for the screen twice.
Death on the Nile (Egypt)
by Agatha Christie
A typically complex Agatha Christie plot, but this one is set in the sun. Hercule Poirot finds himself on a Nile cruise ship with a strange assortment of not very honest characters, leading to a stolen priceless pearl necklace, a man shot in the leg, and finally death on the Nile. The "little grey cells" eventually get to the bottom of this intriguing locked room type mystery.
The Coroner’s Lunch (Laos)
by Colin Cotterill
Set in steamy Laos, the first of the atmospheric Dr. Siri Paiboun mysteries, is a droll and amusing look at life in a somewhat chaotic country after the Communist take-over in 1975. The elderly Dr. Paiboun is appointed to be the medical examiner of the country without having had any experience of performing autopsies. As more and more bodies appear in his morgue, he uses his powers of observation and talks with the dead in his dreams to solve the mysteries that confront him.
The Janissary Tree (Turkey)
by Jason Goodwin
A historian and travel writer, Goodwin takes us to the Istanbul of the 19th century, recreating a culture that no longer exists. Istanbul is a fascinating city to visit; here you can visit it 200 years ago. Yashim, an eunuch, who understands both the Ottoman culture and the approach of the western ones, is essentially a smart private detective who has friends in very high places.
The story starts with the disappearance of four military officers. Next, one of the Sultan’s concubines is murdered, then one of the officers is found dead. Yashim believes there is a connection and that something deep underlies the murders. He’s amazed himself by how deep the plot goes.
(You can meet Yashim in Sunshine Noir.)
The Abrupt Physics of Dying (Yemen)
by Paul E Hardisty
This was Hardisty’s debut novel, and it was short-listed for the CWA New Blood Dagger. His protagonist—Claymore Straker—is working as an environmental engineer in the Yemen for an oil company. He discovers that the oil company is damaging the water in the drought-stricken country, and Straker has to battle in the heat of the desert to bring justice to the impoverished people.
Hardisty writes what he knows; he worked in Yemen and nearly died in a bombing there. He—like Straker—had to battle to turn the facts into the truth.
Dance Hall of the Dead (USA-Arizona)
by Tony Hillerman
Tony Hillerman wrote 18 mysteries featuring Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee of the Navajo tribal police, set in the hot, arid American southwest areas of Arizona and New Mexico. A dominant feature of Dance Hall of the Dead, as well as many of the other books, is a strong acknowledgment by Leaphorn and Chee of local tribal and religious customs, which usually causes problems in their pursuit of wrongdoers.
Hillerman frequently acknowledged how much he was influenced by Arthur Updike, whose mysteries were set in the Outback of Australia and featured a half-European, half-aboriginal Australian hero, Detective-inspector Napoleon (Bony) Bonaparte.
Gunshot Road (Australia)
by Adrian Hyland
Like Arthur Updike mentioned above, Adrian Hyland sets his mysteries in the Australian Outback. Like Updike’s Bony Bonaparte, Hyland’s main character, Emily Tempest, is of mixed blood—the product of an Aboriginal mother and a white father. In Gunshot Road, the second in the series, Emily has moved from being a private detective to being employed by Aboriginal community police. Not only is the story compelling, but the book has many insights into the racial tensions so common in the Outback.
Wife of the Gods (Ghana)
by Kwei Quartey
Quartey’s books are set in Ghana, featuring police detective Darko Dawson. We’ve never been to Ghana, but it feels as though we have through these books. In this, the first of the series, Dawson investigates the murder of a medical student in a remote area of the country.
Soon he finds conflict between the clinic and traditional healers with their indentured servants. The location is deeply disturbing for Dawson because this is where his mother disappeared without a trace many years before, but he doesn't suspect that he will finally get to the bottom of that mystery too.
Thirteen Hours (South Africa)
by Deon Meyer
Unputdownable thriller set in Cape Town. We see snapshots of an American girl running for her life from thugs out to murder her. She has no idea why, as she scrambles between hiding places on Table Mountain, overlooking the apparently tranquil city.
But in the city, Detective Inspector Benny Griessel is investigating the murder of another girl. And then the murder of a music entrepreneur adds to the mix. Once the police understand that the young tourist is being hunted, they have to pull out every stop to try to save her before the 13 hours are up.
Instruments of Darkness (West Africa)
by Robert Wilson
Wilson has several different series—set in Seville, Lisbon and West Africa. They’re all hot places and hot books. The West Africa ones feature Bruce Medway, expat fixer and debt collector on the stretch of coast that was once called The White Man's Grave.
While Medway largely drives the plot which involves smuggling and murder, we meet Beninois detective Bagado who gives us a look at the culture from the inside—the seedy side not only of the underpaid (maybe not paid at all) police, but also of the expat lifestyle. It’s hot and humid and as noir as it gets. You’ll want to read all the books so start at the beginning with this one.
About my new book...
Dying to Live is the sixth book in the Detective Kubu series. The body of a Bushman is discovered near the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, and the death is written off as an accident. But all is not as it seems. An autopsy reveals that although he’s clearly very old, his internal organs are puzzlingly young. What’s more, an old bullet is lodged in one of his muscles… but where is the entry wound?
Michael Stanley is the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. Both were born in South Africa and have worked in academia and business.
Dying to Live by Michael Stanley is out now
Enjoyed this story? Share it!
*This post contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.