Created by Mũkoma wa Ngũgĩ
“If you want the truth you must go to its source. The truth is in the past. Come to Nairobi.”
— the anonymous tip that sets things off in Nairobi Heat
When we first meet ISHMAEL in Mũkoma wa Ngũgĩ‘s 2011 bloody but eye-opening novel, Nairobi Heat, he’s a police detective from Madison, Wisconsin, who’s been whisked all the way off to Kenya, as part of his investigation into a local murder. The prime suspect is Joshua Hakizimana, a black professor at a Wisconsin university, and the victim is a young local girl. A young local white girl. Whose body was found on his doorstep.
Which prompts Ishmael to muse:
“If I was to give advice to black criminals, I would tell them this: do not commit crimes against white people because the state will not rest until you are caught… A beautiful blonde girl is dead and a week later I’m chasing ghosts in Africa.”
But soon enough, the two cops are working together, digging into Hakizimana’s past, and unearthing facts that seem to suggest that the professor, an activist once celebrated for his actions during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, may have a few less than heroic skeletons in his closet. Neither of them are prepared, however, for the rain of violence that comes raining down on them. Dashiell Hammett‘s Red Harvest, another celebrated but violent novel, had a chapter subtitled “The Seventeenth Murder.” I gave up counting the dropped bodies in Nairobi Heat after twenty-seven.
But for Ishmael and O, it’s the start of a beautiful friendship. By the start of its follow-up, the two have formed their own detective agency, Black Star, from which the book, Black Star Nairobi, draws its title.
But if the carnage in the first book bothered you, I’m sorry to report that the sequel may be even bloodier, with the newly minted P.I.s forced to deal with everything from terrorists and hotel bombings to machete attacks, as the country teeters on the edge.
Still, the books are breathtaking; rock ’em sock ’em thrillers that pull few, if any punches, as well as genuine eye-openers for readers unfamiliar with African culture and history, and could herald the arrival of an important new and perhaps necessary voice in P.I. fiction. Let’s keep an eye on this guy…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
- “Ngugi’s ability to weave a complex narrative, which connects crime and racial tensions in the US to an in-depth knowledge of Kenya and its nuances, to Rwanda and its genocide past within this African crime thriller, is nothing but the work of a genius craftsman and wordsmith.”
— New African Magazine on Nairobi Heat
- “Nairobi Heat’s biggest triumph is the way it forces us to re-examine accepted narratives and received truths.”
— The Mail & Guardian
- ”An engaging insider’s view of the cultural divide between Americans and Africans.”
— Publishers Weekly
- “The author’s spare noir style is perfectly suited to a story set in the maze of national, cultural, tribal, class, and sexual divisions that make up contemporary Kenya. Ishmael is the Everyman lost in that maze, ever stumbling towards the truth, only to be turned back again and again by the people he longs to save… Shocking, heartbreaking, yet ending on a glimmer of hope, the echoes of Nairobi Heat remain long after the last page is turned.”
— Betty Webb (September 2011, Mystery Scene)
- African Eyes
Eyes from the “Dark Continent.”