We’re back to my favourite part of the world today, meeting Alex MacBeth in Mozambique, off the coast of Africa. Welcome, Alex!
“I like to spend some time in Mozambique/ The Sunny sky is aqua blue” sang Bob Dylan. In many ways, the country has been punished throughout history for its beauty. Few countries have experienced more nonsensical tragedy and yet retained such incredible charm on the planet.
First colonized by Portugal and later subjected to a fierce war of independence and then destabilization – both lasting a combined 30 years – Mozambique is one of the most peaceful and idyllic places that never gets a mention anywhere. Part of the reason the country is obscured behind other more popular destinations and media (and donor) favourites like Tanzania and Kenya is that the country speaks Portuguese, not English or French. It also only recently discovered natural resources, substantially raising its global profile and prospectives.
I was lucky enough to discover the country in 2004, when my family bought a piece of land on the edges of a very poor village in the north of the country. At the time there was no electricity, running water or schools in Mossuril. The district cradled around a bay opposite the old capital, Mozambique Island, has been forgotten in time and most importantly, space: it lies 23-kilometres down a battered, mud road from the nearest main asphalt artery connecting the rest of the country.
Over the last 15 years it has changed unrecognisably, however, although many basic living standards are still lacking. But there is now a hospital, several schools, a more organised local administration and the seeds of new businesses and a burgeoning micro economy in Mossuril. The Internet has brought smartphones, which gives the smartest among young people the chance to navigate away from their geographic and economic isolation and ‘surf’ the world. This has created a new wave of egalitarian entrepreneurship. Even an asphalt road has begun to crawl its way along the mud track.
For me, Mossuril is a very special place. The Indian Ocean is warm, like a bath; its mangroves are like a sea shepherd, protecting practically the whole ocean’s ecosystem and allowing fish and plants to mature. The local people, the Makhua, are a welcoming and highly matriarchal society, challenging all stupid stereotypes about Africa.
People have an innate calmness and perspective and a fabulous sense of humour, which helps them overcome all kinds of economic disadvantages. But while people are poor, they are extremely rich in spirit, ideas and endeavour. This set of characteristics has helped the district become the host of one of the country’s only film festivals, Festival Fim do Caminho, of which I am a joint founder.
But why did I choose to set THE RED DIE, my debut crime fiction novel, in Mossuril? The truth is I have always been fascinated by how six law enforcement officers police a district of 130,000 people with very limited resources. I wanted to romanticize this struggle and nation-building effort by Mozambican officers and try to offer an alternative to the cliched, corrupt African villain-officer.
The lack of resources – petrol, functioning cars, a forensics lab, personnel, electricity, cigarettes – all became police procedural devices in my novel. So Mossuril became the main setting in THE RED DIE, with a few things changed but essentially the structure of what I knew fictionalized.
Nampula is the second biggest city in Mozambique and the closest to Mossuril. It’s a former military depot that has lacked any kind of urban planning but has sprawled out, amidst the surrounding prehistoric mountains, in all directions. Each street hosts a different community, often of different ethnicities, and thus the city is a chaotic amalgamation of so much with so little infrastructure. A lot of THE RED DIE is set in Nampula as well.
At one point Comandante Felisberto, the hardboiled single father and lead investigator and protagonist in THE RED DIE, travels to Pemba, the country’s new oil hub, to follow a lead. Pemba acts as the sort of futuristic Mozambique, where everything is more developed and money is falling off the sides of buildings. The same is true of the nearby deep-sea port of Nacala, where Felisberto is left to envy the newly-refurbished neighbouring police station to his own.
Comandante Felisberto also visits the capital Maputo, in the far south of the country on the border with South Africa. Mozambique’s coastline is nearly 3,000 kilometres long, so such journeys are like crossing Europe. The Comandante also visits the neighbouring country of Malawi after being forced to flee. So overall there are several settings in the region to explore. Oh, and London makes a few appearances too.
I wanted THE RED DIE to reflect the panoply of magic I have known in Mozambique. I hope readers will enjoy travelling through the nation with the book.
You can buy the paperback or Kindle edition of THE RED DIE here: https://amzn.to/2o1gDNO
THE RED DIE: Synopsis
The body of a man with a red die in his pocket is washed ashore near a quiet village on the coast of the Indian Ocean in southern Africa. But what looked initially like a corpse that came in with the tide soon turns out to be a murder case that will lead Comandante Felisberto and his team to the edge of danger and despair as they uncover a trail leading up to the highest echelons of power in their country.
Can Felisberto and his ‘motley crew of rural investigators’ solve the case – and survive?
Alex MacBeth is a writer of crime fiction, a journalist, a publisher of African literature and a festival founder in Mozambique. He works for several international titles as a journalist and has also worked as a media trainer in Central and East Africa.
THE RED DIE is his first novel. You can buy the paperback or Kindle edition here: https://amzn.to/2o1gDNO