Welcome to Nairobi, where the heat makes New Orleans on a hot summer day feel like spring. An unknown white woman is murdered and her body is left on the doorstep of a Rwanda Professor, Joshua Hakizimana, revered for the lives he saved during the Rwanda genocide – A bad combination for a murder investigation.
Interestingly, the case is assigned to an African American detective, Ishmael Fona, under the supervision of a ‘black Police chief in a mostly white police force of a mostly white town,’ with a charge to bring the perpetrator to justice. It is revealed that race plays a major role within the framework of the justice system the novel is set in. As Ishmael explains, “Do not commit crimes against white people because the state will not rest until you are caught.”
To uncover the truth, Ishmael must travel to Kenya, where it all began after a mysterious phone call. On arrival, he is paired with Kenyan detective, David Odhiambo, known as ‘O,’ a man who has no hesitation crossing lines Ishmael would not dare cross in the US. As the action unravels in a racy manner, full of unpredictable twists, Ngugi allows the reader to see a different side of Kenya through the eyes and voice of Ishmael, who is also discovering his ancestral home. It is through him that we see the author’s exploration of the themes of race and racism, corruption, violence in society and the minefield known as international aid.
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. It is hard to find any faults with Ngugi’s debut novel. His pen promises us more intriguing stories. This is one book you will not put down until you reach the end because it is that superb a story.
Nairobi Heat is published by Penguin South Africa
Note: The above review was first published in the July 2010 Edition of the New African Magazine
Belinda Otas (http://belindaotas.com) is a London-based journalist, writer and blogger. She is interested and passionate about Africa and loves theatre. In fact, she is a theatre fanatic, and reads a lot of novels and short stories by writers of African descent, but sprinkles it with her love of novels and works by authors from different parts of the world. Belinda is currently working on her first stage play.