To recap, Sisters in Crime is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, so book bloggers are participating in Barbara Fister‘s three-level challenge to help them celebrate. My introductory post provided the challenge in full, and this is my stab at the “easy” level:
write a blog post about a work of crime fiction by a woman author; list five more women authors who you recommend.
The not so easy part comes in having to make a decision about which writer to choose. After some thought, I have opted for a writer who is not so well known, is from a remote (to most of us) part of the world, and who is published by a small, independent press, not one of the giants. Her name is Unity Dow. As you can see from her Wikipedia entry, this extraordinary Botswanan woman is a writer, a lawyer, a human-rights activist and a high-court judge – yet her mother could not speak English and she grew up in traditional, rural surroundings.Unity Dow has taught and practiced in the USA, and she has won numerous international awards and honours, including the Légion d’honneur de France. As well as the Wikipeida biography to which I have already linked, you can read about Unity Dow at the African Success website.
She has written five novels, of which I have read one, The Screaming of the Innocent (link goes to my review). It is a harrowing and haunting read: in itself the book is a constructive, positive account of the changing values of Botswana and its many new opportunities for women. But also, the novel delves into the dark and ignorant souls of a superstitious community that harbours very evil people – and tells the heartbreaking story of a potential star who never had the chance to shine. If you can bear it, I recommend reading this novel – but it is likely to make you very angry. From the African Success website: ” The Screaming of the Innocent is described thus by Elinor Sisulu: “Unity Dow courageously voyages into uncharted waters in this gripping tale of ritual murder in contemporary Botswana. Strong female protagonists wage battle against the hypocrisy and evil of male abuse as the story moves inexorably towards its horrifying climax.” ” You have been warned, but do not doubt the sincerity and importance of this book. Many Western readers no doubt prefer the cosy, comforting nature of Alexander McCall Smith’s treatment of the same country in his Precious Ramaotse books. Those books are fine, and do address difficult issues in part (including the one forming the main plot of The Screaming of the Innocent), but only scratch the surface of the reality depicted by Unity Dow.
For the most part, Dow’s books are published by a small Australian press, Spinifex. Here are the publisher’s details for: The Screaming of the Innocent, The Heavens may Fall, Juggling Truths and Far and Beyon’. Another book has been published by Harvard. It seems to me very appropriate in the spirit of this particular challenge, to recommend Unity Dow and Spinifex, which describes itself as “an award-winning, independent feminist press, publishing innovative and controversial feminist books with an optimistic edge”.
Now I have to list five more women authors whom I like. In keeping with the tone of this post, I am going to name here five feminist authors who are unafraid to travel into the depths of the tortured soul in their crime novels:
Karin Alvtegen (Sweden) – try Shadow, but they are all very black, in different ways from each other.
Karen Campbell (Scotland) – The Twilight Time is the first of a varied and increasingly dark series.
Karin Fossum (Norway) – I suggest Black Seconds in this context.
Petra Hammesfahr (Germany) – The Sinner is a very black journey indeed. (I don’t recommend her other translated novel, The Lie.)
Asa Larsson (Sweden) Sun Storm is her first, her series is probably best read in order. They are all very gripping.
Sisters in Crime book bloggers’ challenge.
I have had the first Unity Dow book home from the library for ages but in my reading slump have not wanted to start it for fear of not doing it justice, but I do very much want to read it. And you’re right that spinifex is a good publisher to highlight for this challenge, they have published some great stuff over the years including books by Dale Spender who is one of my favourite thinkers/teachers/writers on feminist issues. She wrote a great book about women in cyberspace back in the 90’s (non fiction). Spinifex also published a much underrated work of Australian crime writing, Finola Moorhead’s STILL MURDER which is about violence of several kinds and the way it impacts lives, especially those of women. I might have to consider the batton passed and talk about this book in my own next post for the challenge as it is a tremendous book, though like the one you discuss it is dark in terms of its subject matter, focusing on women who have been raped and betrayed in various circumstances. I just looked it up and it’s 20 years since it was published but I can still remember reading it very clearly. There is such a difference between this kind of book, where there is very grim content but a point and the slahser/horror style of book that is so popular these days and if I am going to read dark topics I want there to be some purpose to it.
There are two other authors on your list I’ve yet to try so will have to add more names to my TBR. Thanks, sort of 😉
Thanks for you fascinating comments, Bernadette. I’ll look out for that Moorhead book. Quite a few of the translated crime I read is that old before it gets into an English language version 😉 If you ever get around to the Karen Campbell books I’d love to know what you make of those.
You inspired me to get my hands on a copy of the Moorhead and re-read it before doing a post about the book (my memory is simply not good enough to do justice after 20 years). I’ll happily send it across the pond after I’ve read it.
Maxine – I’m so glad you featured Unity Dow. I have to confess I’ve not read The Screaming of the Innocent. I’ve wanted to since I read your review of it, but have not yet done so. She has such a fascinating background, too!
Your other author choices are fine ones, indeed. They are fearless authors in the sense of being willing to depict some truly ugly things without being gratuitous. To me, that’s a sign of talent. I admit I haven’t read Hammesfahr, although you’re not the first who’s recommended her first to me. I’ll have to give her a try when I’m ready for that kind of journey. Just finished Alice LaPLante’s Turn of MInd and need a break from harrowing for a bit. It was a remarkable read and I am so glad you recommended it.
Thanks, Margot. I agree that some of these dark issues and harrowing issues, while important to address, sometimes need to take a back burner! I’m so glad you enjoyed the Alice LaPlante, it was amazing for a debut novel and such a telling yet unsentimental character study of someone with Alzheimer’s.
Very good and interesting review. I want to read it but am a bit hesitant not because of the writing or the writer, but the points which are elaborated upon here. I had enough problems dealing with City of Veils.
An interesting thought: After looking at this list, I pondered whether women named “Karen” have a proclivity towards writing psychological suspense novels.
Wonderful profile – I must find her books. (Ooh, just realized – perhaps I can use our Women and Gender Studies library endowment to buy some Spinifex books. Yes!) Quite the antithesis to Alexander McCall Smith and (though less lighthearted) the two gentlemen who write as Michael Stanley. The only woman author from Botswana whom I’ve read is Bessie Head – originally from South Africa. She can be a bit harrowing too, but has enormous fondness for Botswana, nicely captured in Serowe: Village of the Rain-Wind.
I read the first Michael Stanley and rather liked it – it is more of a police procedural/adventure than social/political comment, but maybe they change. The main detective is rather appealing. I hope you can get some of those Spinifex books as it is so good to be able to support small presses in these endangered times!
Thinking about contributing but this looks rather intimidating. 🙂 I’d be hard pressed to live five women writers I could recommend. Must think on that. Great post Maxine. Debating if I should try Alvtegen again because you know I did try to read her and didn’t finish but am in the mood to try again. I know the book I tried reading wasn’t The Shadow.
pardon me! I didn’t mean it the way that it sounded – not being able to list five women writers. I know quite a few but to list just five?
Don’t worry, Keishon I know what you mean! I agree it is hard to list just five so one is simply forced to do the next stage of the challenge 😉 ( if time permits…) Maybe you could try Missing, it is a thriller book (predates The Girl Who Played with Fire) so though there is a personally harrowing back-story, this is merged with the thriller elements so not quite as intense as, eg Unity Dow’s book described here (not a thriller!).
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