Jaime Bunda: Secret Agent is a brilliant and welcome antidote to the tiresome James Bond, the cultured hero of Ian Fleming's establishment take on the virtues of British imperialism and dashing star of endless movies featuring strange men employing even stranger weapons in their effort to dominate the world to the great detriment of GB Inc. By contrast Bunda, thank God, is black, fat, lacking confidence and pretty useless - yet gets the job done when it comes to investigating the murder of a teenage girl with a clumsy and comical panache that delivers up concrete results.
A police detective in Luanda, this African anti-hero may stray unawares into a world of international criminal networks but his feet stay firmly on the ground of Angola. Reviewers and commentators have interpreted this book as a perceptive critique of the country by one of its most celebrated authors. Pepetela takes endless sideswipes at bureaucratic bungling, bribery and class contrast. I prefer to see it as a critique of James Bond. Fleming's hero - and the James Bond of the movies - almost never comes into contact with the landscapes blighted by urban poverty of his own country or the working-class that inhabit them. Bond's is a country as resistant to self-criticism as Bunda's is one overflowing with it.
Given that Pepetela was an MPLA guerrilla who fought against the Portuguese colonisers in his country until turning his sword into a pen, there is clearly a flavour of populist anti-imperialism to this character that he has created - Bunda is the normal man who finds himself unwittingly living out the fantasy constructed by the likes of Bond or, in this case, by American fictional detectives. So, given a choice between the English and African characters for someone to hold a conversation with at one of those cocktail parties so beloved of 007, I choose Bunda - although there may not be much room left for me on the sofa.