27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
I just love to travel around the world in my living room. Ngugi takes us from Madison Wisconsin to Africa and back again. Along the way he walks us through social problems in both places. He does great job of providing a mini history and political culture lesson of the Rwandan genocide and its impact. Racism and violence are highlighted but so is the energy of the African people and how deeply they care for one another despite the corruption. When Ishmael, who is a black American detective arrives in Kenya he's repeatedly called `mzungu', which means white in Kishwahili, because he's not a native African. He meets David Odhiambo his African counterpart and it takes Ishmael all of 10 minutes to step in a whole lot of doo doo when he comes upon a crime in progress he tries to stop. And that's before even gets a chance to investigate the crime he's there to solve.
Back in Madison he's called to a homicide scene and finds a beautiful young blonde woman murdered on the steps of an African college professor's house. Of course the professor, Joshua Hakizimana, is the first suspect. Since they don't have enough evidence to hold him the local cops have to let Hakizimana go. He flees back to Africa where he's a hero. He's known for running a school where Rwandan's who escaped the genocide found aid. One by one he leads them to safety but something doesn't add up either in Africa or in America. There's a foundation with lots of unaccounted for money and a plethora of board members who want Ishmael dead or at least to stop investigating and go home so they can carry on with their money making schemes. Ishmael and Odhiambo make a great combination as does the relationship between the US and Africa. Ngugi's is a great new voice and I'm looking forward to more from him.
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
This is the first crime novel by an African writer that I've ever read and I can honestly say that I liked it. Perhaps that's due to the fact that I cannot really label it, say that is that it belongs to one genre or another. The non-stop action, the blood splattered scenes and the twists and turns, somehow remind me of an American thriller; its social background though is so solid and realistic, that maybe I would do it a disservice by saying that this is just a thriller and nothing more.
It all begins when a naked young woman is found dead outside the house of an African human rights activist, in Madison, Wisconsin. Detective Ishmael, an African American who rushes to the scene of the crime, feels from the very first moment that there's more to this murder than what at first meets the eye; namely, layer upon layer of secrets and lies. The man who discovered the body is quite famous for his humanitarian efforts during the genocide in Rwanda and is said to have saved hundreds of people, thus the logic dictates that someone is trying to frame him for the murder. In this particular area most of the people are white and the Ku Klux Klan has a very strong presence, so as expected the heat is on for the detective right from the start. However, nobody seems to know who the dead woman is, and since the police cannot identify the victim, there's no way to look for a motive. So before too long Ishmael's investigation reaches a dead end, due to the lack of clues. The media and the higher ups in the political food chain though will not give the matter a rest that easily, so the pressure on the chief of police, who also happens to be an African American, keeps mounting. When everything seems lost though, they will by chance find a lead. An anonymous informer will tell them to look for the answers they seek where it all started, in Africa, and particularly Kenya.
So the born and raised in the US Ishmael will soon find himself on a flight to Nairobi, where a Kenyan cop called David Odhiambo, but generally known as O, will bid him welcome. The country is considerably peaceful, if compared with its neighbors, but nevertheless corruption and chaos seem to rule the day. Violent crime is a way of life, the outskirts of the city (which the locals call Nairoberry) are kill zones, and money, as in Ishmael's home country one would say, is god. The detective, used as he is in following certain rules and procedures when investigating a case, is at the beginning disgusted with and shocked by his colleague's attitude, but the more time he spends there, the more he comes to realize that in that place there's only one way to get things done, so he starts following O's example. In a country were lawlessness is the law, the men of the real law just have to use any means necessary to enforce it. Besides, as O says: "...we are bad people too. The only difference is that we fight on the side of the good".
Thus the two of them together, law enforcers and avengers at the same time, will spend the next few days going from one place to the next, questioning people, drinking lots of beer and enjoying music, making love and shooting and getting shot at, trying to work things out. Their insistence and resolve will one day be rewarded, but until then they will many times come face to face with death, go head to head with some of the country's rich and powerful and re-open some old wounds, which have never really stopped bleeding.
This is of those novels that stand out not only for their plot and action, but also about the story they have to say; here the micro history, which too many times alters the lives of people in painful ways, but the official history as well, the one that becomes common knowledge, and which more often than not is based on lies.
This is a great novel that should be read from crime fiction aficionados and literary fiction fans alike, since it has too much to say, to everyone.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
I bought this because I'd read a good review of it and because from time to time I like to read mysteries.
I had not seen one (other than the quirky #1 Ladies' Detective Agency) set anywhere in Africa, so I thought it would be interesting. It was.
The best thing about this book is the voice of its narrator--a sort of old-fashioned detective-movie voice, a little jaded by experience, but with a heart of gold and a touch of sweetness hidden deep inside. We see not only Africa, but also the US through his eyes.
The second best thing about the book is the way the story (solving the murder) is so intertwined with the culture the detective encounters in Africa. One cannot be teased apart from the other. This is a murder that could not have happened, would not have happened in any other way, in any other place.
The culture shock is acute--and important, as our protagonist, a black American detective, searches not only for a killer, but also for his own social equilibrium in a world where he's suddenly a part of the majority--but also a foreigner.
I have to say I really, really enjoyed this book--and I would recommend it to anybody who likes not only a good page-turning mystery, but also a journey outside his N. American comfort zone.
I'd also like to see more from this author. . . .
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
A black police detective named Ishmael is surprised when a Nairobi taxi driver calls him a white man, but he's as out-of-place in Africa as any other American. Ishmael is chasing clues in the murder of a blonde woman in Madison, Wisconsin's prosperous Maple Bluff neighborhood, where a Kenyan named Joshua Hakizimana claims to have found her dead on his front porch, the apparent victim of a heroin overdose. Hakizimana has achieved some fame as an advocate for Rwandan refugees and doesn't seem the murderous type. On the strength of an anonymous telephone call urging him to come to Nairobi because "the truth is in the past," the police chief rather improbably gives Ishmael permission to pursue the investigation in Kenya. In Nairobi, Ishmael joins a detective named O. As Ishmael and O pursue leads, they become targets of assassination and do a fair amount of their own killing while edging closer to a criminal conspiracy involving corruption and genocide that overshadows the lone death in Madison.
While Nairobi Heat succeeds as a detective story (and quite a good one, once the surprising connection between Hakizimana and the dead woman on his porch is revealed), it is also the story of Ishmael's journey toward an understanding of his racial identity. In addition to finding clues in Kenya, Ishmael finds something else -- not his roots, exactly, but a kind of serenity. The novel explores an interesting racial dynamic: some blacks, including his ex-wife, view Ishmael as a race traitor because he occasionally arrests black suspects, while some whites, seeing his black face in the police department, wonder why he's not in handcuffs. In Kenya, O discusses at some length the relationship between color and justice. Mukoma Wa Ngugi integrates this commentary into the story without slowing the novel's pace and, for the most part, without becoming too preachy (although some degree of preachiness is consistent with the personalities of Ishmael and O).
On the other hand, once Ishmael returns to Madison, the story begins to drag. Ngugi is more sure-footed as he relates the sights and sounds of Nairobi. His prose flows with the rhythm of the streets as he describes dancers and drinkers, taxis and slums, destitute refugees and wealthy landowners. His take on America is less insightful. When Ishmael investigates the murder and its implications after leaving Nairobi, Ngugi adds a twist to the plot that slows the story's momentum without returning a compensatory reward. The KKK plays a role in the novel's ending that is entirely unconvincing, in part because the Klan doesn't have the kind of power or presence in Madison that Ngugi attributes to it. A final discussion of race and class is a bit heavy-handed.
On balance, Nairobi Heat isn't perfect, but it's a quick and easy read that addresses serious issues while telling an entertaining, offbeat detective story. An element of vigilantism that might be disturbing in other novels seems natural in this one. Ishmael is an interesting character and the ending sets up the possibility of his return. On the strength of this novel, I would probably read the next one if Ngugi decides to reprise the character.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
I'm always excited to read crime stories set in other cultures, and so I picked up this Kenyan-set book with great anticipation. The story actually opens in the American college town of Madison, Wisconsin, where a beautiful young white woman has been found dead on the doorstep of a visiting Rwandan professor. A local African-American police detective named Ishmael catches the case, and is soon sucked into a whirlpool of confusion involving the legacy of the genocide in Rwanda 15 years in the past. The professor is a hero of the genocide, referred to as a kind of Rwandan Schindler (Paul Rusesabagina is purposefully not invoked), who used his school as a safe haven and waystation to smuggle people to safety. Now he is one of the public faces of a international charity devoted to supporting the victims of the genocide.
With no clues to go on, Ishmael and his chief are stuck -- until an anonymous phone call directs them to go to Nairobi to find the truth. Ishmael hops on a plane, and soon enough, is knocking around the Kenyan capital with a local police detective, stirring up trouble. As they start to look into the charity, and the center it runs, they encounter varying degrees of resistance, and meet a string of shady characters (most notable among them is a crazy rich white plantation owner), and Ishmael falls for a sexy slam poetess who helps him uncover the truth.
Unfortunately, while he book does a great job of capturing the feel of Nairobi's slums and rich enclaves, the story itself is kind of ridiculous in a lot of ways. For example, it's not very plausible from either a cost or jurisdiction perspective that a local police force would send a detective halfway around the world on the strength of an anonymous phone call. Nor is it very plausible that the professor would be as readily dismissed as a suspect as he is. It's hard to get into it without spoiling the story, but even a basic police search of a particular building would have revealed all the evidence needed to identify the culprit from the get-go. But since that would have removed the whole basis for the trip to Kenya, it's conveniently glossed over. These flaws (and a few others) make the crime element of the story feel rather amateurish.
When the story moves to Kenya, it does find itself on more solid ground, and the setting and characters feel a little more real. What doesn't work quite as well is the attempt to have Ishmael undergo a kind of racial awakening while in Africa. While on the case, he becomes more and more comfortable in the country and finds a certain serenity there that is so beguiling that he's tempted to move there. It all feels a bit thin and I wasn't convinced by it. Another element that wasn't particularly convincing was the corrupt charity that Ishmael is investigating, or rather, not that it is corrupt, but the mechanics of its corruption. The scheme that's uncovered is paper thin, and it's (again) not particularly plausible. You have to buy into the notion that the entire Board of Directors of a giant company like Shell are directly involved in the corruption. I've certainly got no love for Shell, especially given their behavior in Nigeria, but people at that level of power aren't going to get directly involved in something as transparently shady as what's the plot describes.
I love the idea of the crime novel as a vehicle for social history and social commentary, but the crime element has to be believable. In this book, it's not, and the entire book suffers as a result. I will, however, be curious to see what the author (who is the son of Kenya's most prominent writer, Ngugi wa Thiong'o) comes up with for his next book.