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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Nairobi Heat

by
Mukoma wa Ngugi


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Nairobi Heat



Title: Nairobi Heat
Author: Mukoma wa Ngugi
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009
Length: 204 pages
Availability: Nairobi Heat - US
Nairobi Heat - UK
Nairobi Heat - Canada
Nairobi Heat - India

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Our Assessment:

B : entertaining read, but ultimately takes it a bit too far (and not far enough, in other respects)

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Mail & Guardian . 6/11/2009 Percy Zvomuya
Publishers Weekly . 30/5/2011 .


  From the Reviews:
  • "It's an OK story, I guess, studded with the usual drama and clichés (perhaps that's a genre requirement; these occasionally are qualified by "as you Americans say"). Its biggest fault is happenstance, sometimes unbelievable; one crucial turn of events near the end left me literally breathless. The narrative shifts so dramatically and radically that even the characters in the book can't quite believe it themselves. (...) Nairobi Heat's biggest triumph is the way it forces us to re-examine accepted narratives and received truths." - Percy Zvomuya, Mail & Guardian

  • "Ngugi (...) provides an engaging insider's view of the cultural divide between Americans and Africans, but some gaps in logic -- such as no one in the U.S. recognizing the murder victim -- may bother mystery fans." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Nairobi Heat is half American-style police procedural, half African thriller in the tradition of Meja Mwangi (one of the writers this book is dedicated to). The narrator, Ishmael, is a lone investigator and outsider figure: he is black -- so is the chief of police, but otherwise it's pretty much a sea of white here in Madison, Wisconsin -- and his first demand when he talks with his boss about the case at hand is: "I'm working this case alone".
       The case begins with: "a beautiful blonde dead on the doorstep of an African professor". The professor is Joshua Hakizimana, a well-known figure famous for having protected large numbers of people during the Rwandan genocide and closely associated with the well-regarded humanitarian Never Again Foundation. As to the identity of the dead girl, they can't seem to figure that out (unlikely though that seems).
       Ishmael is pretty far from his African roots -- "Joshua was the first African I had really interacted with", he admits -- but this case quickly changes that. Just as he starts poking around he gets an anonymous phone call urging him:

If you want the truth, you must go to its source. The truth is in the past. Come to Nairobi.
       That's good enough for Ishmael, and armed with no other information -- such as what he might be looking for in Nairobi -- (but armed with his trusty Glock) he convinces his boss to send him to Kenya for two weeks (without informing anyone except his counterpart in Nairobi). (Yes, the police procedural part of the novel doesn't hew closely to any actual or realistic American police procedure, but at the pace it zips along at one barely has time to notice.)
       In Nairobi Ishmael teams up with local policeman David Odhiambo (who prefers to be called O). The two hit it off and work well together, though they're not really sure what they're looking for. But O knows his way around and they figure eventually they'll hit on something. Of course, soon they hit on way more than they bargained for.
       Ishmael takes in a bit of Africa, and when there's a girl in distress his police instincts immediately have him plunge into the fray. That's only his first encounter (and shoot-out) with some people who would like to see them dead -- a group of local thugs, armed with AK-47s, in this case.
       Mukoma doesn't skimp on the action, but even Ishmael notes, barely half-way through this blood-soaked rampage -- that: "The bodies were piling up fast". They do, and they keep piling, as Mukoma resorts to the confrontation-leading-to-a-killing scene way too many times, for want of any other way of moving forward. ("Not again", Ishmael says at one point, as he gets conked on the head yet again .....)
       Mukoma's command of thriller elements proves very limited, but at least the action continues to zip along. There are some twists that come along, and if some aren't very plausible -- well, the action is all skimming on the surface, so perhaps one can't expect very much depth. The problem with that is that the foundations of the book and the crime are rooted in something very dark and ugly and complex, the Rwandan genocide, and the moral issues and conflicts Mukoma brings up are indeed grave and serious -- and too much is lost in the superficial action and, especially, the heaps of careless and reckless killing.
       Mukoma has a decent, breezy style, and tells some decent stories, but Nairobi Heat is too simplistic for its weighty subject matter, reduced too much to basic thriller tropes. There's a complex thriller addressing several important issues here, from race relations and standards in middle America to the Rwandan genocide, but too often Mukoma reduces it to near cartoon-simple level, falling back on action -- Die Hard-like carnage -- that is overkill and dulls the impact of his story.
       Nairobi Heat is a good thriller read, but feels somewhat lazy -- all the more so because Mukoma writes quite well and there's a natural flow to much of this, an ease to the writing that suggests he can do as he pleases but just couldn't be bothered. American readers are certainly used to more realism in their crime fiction, especially as regards the actual police-work, and without it Nairobi Heat feels a bit basic. Mukoma also tackles a bit much here, which also makes for a crowded book, and is one of the reasons for the many dead bodies strewn across its pages.
       Still, there's lots of promise here -- and the end suggests a future for Ishmael and his sidekick, and for Mukoma; the next installment in a series would be welcome .....

- M.A.Orthofer, 30 October 2011

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Links:

Nairobi Heat: Reviews: Mũkoma wa Ngũgĩ: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Kenyan-American author Mũkoma wa Ngũgĩ was born in 1971; he is the son of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o.

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© 2011 the complete review

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