Africa at its darkest,
This review is from: Nairobi Heat (Melville International Crime) (Paperback)
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The prime attraction of this novel is the intrigue created by a black American detective pursuing his enquiries in Africa. Ishmael, the detective in question, narrates the story. It begins with a perfunctory account of his initial investigations into the death of a young blonde found on the doorstep of a Kenyan college professor, the only suspect. The author seems to assume, reasonably, that we are already aware of the nature of crime in the US. Against this, he presents the African equivalent. Whereas crime in the US is rife, but contained within the bounds of a civilised society, in Kenya it appears as part of the landscape. Death, rape, corruption: it is barely concealed.
Consequently, Ishmael is assisted by O, a Kenyan detective, who understands the dangers. As usual, the opening murder is the chink through which even darker secrets are revealed. Ngugi presents his story on both personal and political levels. Ishmael's narration is often so dominated by his feelings, that you get more of a sense of how people live than a sense of place. Bound up in the politics and personal struggles is a complex presentation of race relationship. Ishmael, for instance, is dismayed to find that Kenyans regard him as white.
Characterisation is patchy. Ishmael, in particular, is a mass of paradoxes. He is sensitive to death, often throwing up when he encounters it, which is often, yet he lacks warmth in my opinion, and sometimes displays a ruthlessness you would not expect from a hero. The suspect Joseph, however, is vividly drawn.
This is a readable and thought-provoking, if brutal and flawed novel, as much a political thriller as a whodunit, and at two hundred pages it isn't padded. It is worth a look if you want something a little different from your diet of crime fiction.