Here’s some summer reading if you fancy dropping into the genre of the crime thriller… but crime thrillers with a twist… there’s always a twist!
Basically, thrillers keep me reading. It feels good to keep the pages turning. To say I’m a fan of Walter Mosley would be a definite understatement. I live in constant anticipation of the next episode in the turbulent lives of Easy Rawlings or Leonid McGill or Socrates Fortlow and having just watched the AppleTV rendering of the The last Days of Ptolemy Grey, starring Samuel L Jackson and the excellent Dominique Fishback, I am further convinced of Mosley’s genius. However, the recent arrival on the scene of S. A. Cosby has presented us with a potential contender to the throne.
My first encounter with Cosby was Blacktop Wasteland. The writer drops us into the deep South … rural Virginia… and introduces us to a black ex con, Beauregard aka ‘Bug’ who is running a repair shop, trying to keep the wolves from the door and feed his family. Bug is an astute and good man but well capable of turning up the violence notch when necessary. As fans of the genre we all know shit happens especially when the option of staying on the straight and narrow suddenly vanishes. We enter the Bug’s world via an illegal car race and when he agrees to be the driver on one last heist we are rapidly drawn into into the land of trailer parks, small towns and confederate flags where the odds against a black man succeeding in a legit business are still stacked. Buckle up for the ride.
I waited nigh on a year for Cosby’s next book – Razorblade Tears – and I was not disappointed. A Black father. A white father. Two ex-cons and two murdered sons. We return once more to the deep south where S. A. Cosby resides. Ike Randolph has been out of jail for fifteen years, with not so much as a speeding ticket but after his son Isiah has been murdered – along with Isiah’s white husband, Derek – he is devastated. The police are not interested and Ike crosses the racial divide to unite with Derek’s father, Buddy Lee (you get the picture!) in order to seek revenge. The love they have for their sons forces them to confront their own ingrained homophobic and racial prejudices as they hunt down and rain vengeance upon those who killed their boys. Radical retribution and maybe even redemption.
Not surprisingly, Razorblade Tears notched up ’nuff acclaim and awards and if you’re a bit of a completist like myself you can check out Cosby’s first novel, My Darkest Prayer to see how the man’s work has evolved.
After chatting with a good friend and enthusing about S.A. Cosby he casually informed that all his recent reading consisted of African crime novels, all written African writers. Boom! After he’d hit me up with a couple of recommendations I was off and running.
First up, Making Wolf by Tade Thompson. This book is based on a London based supermarket/store detective – Weston Koji – returning home, to a fictional country in West Africa, for a funeral. After a few beers he starts telling people that he is with the London Met and is a homicide detective. In the blink of an eye he’s been kidnapped by a psychotic former school friend and member of the Alcacia Liberation Front (LFA). Weston is commissioned to investigate the death of Enoch ‘Pa’ Busi, a respected diplomat trying to broker peace between the the rebel factions. Ironically, our hero is subsequently forced to work for the LFA’s rivals – the rebel army of Our Lord’s Forces – to do exactly the same. With the threat of a Civil War looming, Weston enlists the help of an ex-girlfriend, Nana, in order to negotiate a path through the threats and the violence to prevent the country going up in flames. Making Wolf was a definite winner and paved the way for what was to come.
Easy Motion Tourist – a title lifted from a classic Rolling Dollar song – is Leye Adenle‘s award winning debut novel. An out of his depth British journalist, Guy Collins, gets embroiled in a gruesome murder that takes place outside a Lagos night club frequented by wealthy Lagosians and ex-pats. His saviour is Amaka, a woman who works under cover, devoting herself to the protection of the city’s working girls. In return for her assistance she expects the journo to deliver a story in the foreign press that will bring global attention to her campaign against the people traffickers and body-parts smugglers. It’s a seriously risky business and, as to be expected, the Nigerian mega-city throws up a quite a cast of shady, deranged and dangerous characters, from whom there appears no chance of escape.
I quickly moved on to Adenle’s follow up When Trouble Sleeps which is now subtitled an An Amaka Thriller. Our ‘oyibo’ journalist is now back in London and makes but a fleeting appearance. Amaka Mbadiwe – the self-appointed saviour of Lagos’ sex workers – is back with a vengeance and poised to pull back the curtain on the seedy underbelly of Lagos. When a plane crash kills the state gubernatorial candidate, the party picks a replacement who is assured of winning the election: Chief Ojo. However, Amaka knows the skeletons that lurk in Chief Ojo’s closet. She is the only person standing between Chief Ojo and election victory, and inevitably Amaka is caught in a deadly game of survival, against a backdrop of political corruption, sex, sleaze and violence. Top stuff!
Femi Kayode’s debut novel – Lightseekers – won the 2019 UEA Crime Writing prize and takes us down another path. Dr Philip Taiwo, is a professor in investigative psychology, who has recently returned from the US to his hometown of Lagos. He has just completed his PhD research on mob lynching in America. Little does he know that he is poised to be embroiled in a notorious incident, dubbed by the Nigerian media as the Okriki Three. This tragic incident involves three middle class university students being accused of stealing and after having been bludgeoned near to death by a mob of townsfolk they are burnt alive. Documented on smartphones and uploaded onto social media platforms the lynching inevitably goes viral, sparking a nationwide condemnation of the mob violence. Dr Taiwo is approached by a one of the grieving parents and asked to seek out the truth behind the incident and investigate “why what happened, happened”.
Upon accepting the mission our intrepid psychologist, armed with his expertise in analysing crowd violence, sets out for the small university town of Okriki to investigate. The question is, how does one allocate blame when a murder is committed by a crowd of people, especially when it is — “a unified force rallying behind a crime initiated by one, covered by all”.
As it evolves his journey is fraught with danger. There’s an uncooperative local police force, hostile townsfolk and university fraternities/secret cults. With the assistance of his streetwise “research” assistant – the quick-witted Chika Maruochi — the duo are determined to get to the bottom of what starts to reek of a pre-meditated crime.
Lightseekers is a complex tale with a tension-filled narrative. It highlights the realities of living in modern day Nigeria within a volatile political landscape, where wealth and poverty reside side by side, resulting in an ongoing menacing military presence, and deep seated corruption that feeds an underworld, where drugs, weapons and murder are the norm. Lightseekers is an intense and intriguing read.
More to come in Part 2…