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Nairobi Heat Paperback – Sep 13 2011
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"Nairobi Heat takes us to Kenya with a refreshing authority... Besides the usual fun and thrill of crime novels, what makes the book a delicious read is that it’s also packed with engaged and relevant social commentary."
—The New York Times
"If you're weary of the glut of Scandinavian crime fiction, take a trip to Kenya's teeming capital city. " —The New York Post
"A fast-paced hard-boiled crime novel... We suggest you pick up a copy if you know what's good for you." —Flavorwire
"Just as the works of James Ellroy and Carl Hiaasen dig beneath the glitter of Hollywood and South Beach, respectively, to reveal a nasty, fetid underside, [Nairobi Heat] rips away images of the Sahara and safaris and goes beyond nightly news pictures of deprivation."—The Fort Worth Star-Telegram
"Ishmael Fofona, Ngugi's detective, may not as yet have taken over from Kurt Wallander in our affections, but I'm hoping it's only a matter of time."—The Telegraph (UK)
"Sizzling...an action-packed cross-cultural ride, crackling with detail garnered from the author's experience reporting on the African communities in which this story is set." —Barnes & Noble Review
"An engaging insider's view of the cultural divide between Americans and Africans." —Publishers Weekly
“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
“Nairobi Heat’s biggest triumph is the way it forces us to re-examine accepted narratives and received truths.”—The Mail & Guardian (South Africa)
"[A] welcome discovery."—mysteryplaces.net
About the Author
MUKOMA WA NGUGI is a novelist and poet, whose books include the novel Nairobi Heat and the poetry collection Hurling Words at Consciousness. He was short listed for the Caine Prize for African writing in 2009 and for the 2010 Penguin Prize for African Writing.
His columns have appeared in the Guardian, International Herald Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times, and he has been a guest on Democracy Now, Al Jazeera, and the BBC World Service. His stories and poetry have been published in the Kenyon Review, Kwani!, Chimurenga and Tin House Magazine, among other places.
Mukoma was born in 1971 in Evanston, Illinois and grew up in Kenya before returning to the United States for his undergraduate and graduate education. He is currently a professor of English at Cornell University.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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. . . .
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.
Told in the first person from Ishmael's point of view, as the black detective who is sent to Africa to look into the background of the prime suspect in a murder and finds himself in the middle of a worldwide conspiracy. Ishmael is soon caught up in class and race war and fighting to stay alive when he thought he was simply investigating a murder. It's a sign of things to come that on his arrival in Nairobi, he's stunned to hear himself referred to as white. Frequent comparisons of skin color ("I am black, but I've never seen a man as black as he was. His skin was almost blue.") symbolize the deep societal divides still present in both Africa and the United States. This is not a long book, but it packs a lot into a few pages.
Where the book falls short, in my opinion, is in the parts set in the US, yet I think this is more an editor's fault than the author's. Ishmael grew up in Madison, a privileged middle class child, yet he refers to his living room as a "lounge". There were several such errors in American usage, but the most jarring points are Ishmael's relationship with his "Chief" and the way in which Ishmael takes the law into his own hands in Madison. These errors would have been acceptable in a book by an African author who'd never been to the US, (in Deon Meyers' Thirteen Hours, two of the characters were from Indiana, and those scenes were well-researched and effective), but from an author who was educated in and lives in the US now, they come across as lazy. It's a shame, because parts of this book are simply wonderful.