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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Deadly Ambition

Glaydah Namukasa

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To purchase The Deadly Ambition

Title: The Deadly Ambition
Author: Glaydah Namukasa
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006
Length: 235 pages
Availability: The Deadly Ambition - US
The Deadly Ambition - UK
The Deadly Ambition - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B : not very polished, but gripping enough

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Set in contemporary Uganda, The Deadly Ambition nevertheless has a very Dickensian and Victorian feel to it, with a ruthless villain who is pure evil, a horrific plan of his that ruins many, many lives, and a young girl, orphaned and on the run, who is the key to unmasking him and his evil-doing. The very baseness of the villain, Busagwa, and the way he treats everyone whom he does not immediately need something from (and he rarely thinks he needs anything from anyone -- at least anything that he can't just take) help make for a compelling read -- and though there's not much doubt that he will be found out the question is how long he can keep up his dastardly plans (and how far he can go).
       The opening scene of the novel introduces Busagwa -- and shows him exactly for what kind of man he is:

     "So what if three workers died ? The issue here is that all my investment was turned to ashes ! Busagwa said, his hoarse voice heavy with freshened anger.
       Yes, he's indifferent to anyone's life but his own, and when his shop burns down all he cares about is the cost to him. Soon enough, however, he decides to be more ambitious: coffee trader John Bosco and his close friend Vincent Kalule enjoy the lives -- and business-success -- he wants for himself. So he decides to take them.
       Bosco has a large family, Kalule only one son, Ivan. They're very close, and, disturbed when Busagwa comes to visit him, Bosco of course turns to his good friend to ask his advice. But they're not sure what Busagwa wants -- and they can't dream of how he plans to get it.
       Busagwa spells his plans out clearly in the notes he takes. It's a Victorian plot, involving fake letters and a fake will, mass murder, and marrying one of the widows. Very ambitious -- and, it turns out, relatively easy to carry out.
       Busagwa is ruthless. He wipes out practically the entire Bosco family, then sets his sights on Kalule, and even if that doesn't go quite without a hitch, eventually he's put himself in the position he wants, heading Bosco's business and wooing Kalule's widow.
       But the plan didn't go off perfectly. Bosco's youngest daughter, Anna, met Busagwa when he first came to her father's offices, and afterwards Bosco warned her about him:
     "Don't ever mention him to anyone, not even to me. "
     "Is he a very bad man ?"
     "Yes, he's a very bad man. Don't ever mention him, you understand ?"
       It's pretty clear where this is going: the very bad man soon does some very bad things and Anna is the only witness and survivor. She can identify him, but doesn't know his name (which will continue to cause problems) -- and her father told her never to mention him .....
       Busagwa knows he has to get his hands on Anna, but that proves harder than imagined: no one can find her, as she is hidden first by one, then another person.
       Busagwa eventually also takes over the Kalule family, and there the son, Ivan, will be the last remaining hurdle to his getting complete control over everything, but the boy is also suspicious of the rude and bad man -- and Ivan also harbours fond memories of his childhood playmate, Anna .....
       The book is divided into four sections, each separated by two or three years, meaning an awful lot of time goes by. But Namukasa keeps the tension up, in part by making it more difficult for Busagwa to carry out the final parts of his plans, as well as through the two characters who pose a real threat to him, Anna and Ivan. The resolution is a bit frenetic and simplistic, but the detestable character gets what he has coming.
        Even in its over-the-top story, Namukasa does a good job of creating these characters -- indeed, the characterization, developed in small scenes and their interaction with others, is often more successful than the way they are used (and often too easily disposed of). Even Busagwa, in his complete evilness, is a compelling figure.
       Some of what happens is presented just too obviously, Namukasa laying it on again even when she has already telegraphed what will happen, as when Kalule lies in hospital:
     "I'm sorry, doctor," Busagwa was quick to say. "... Is Kalule well ? Is there hope ? I am so worried, you know ..."
     "As long as oxygen is in place, hope is guaranteed !" Dr.Nyanzi turned to leave.
       Hmmm, any guesses how long oxygen will remain in place ... ?
       There is, however, some real depth on occasion, as in a scene where Kalule's widow confronts him about his feelings:
     Busagwa hesitated in his steps. Could he love ? Had he ever loved ? Had anyone ever loved him ? He hurried towards her and grabbed her hand. "I love you, Maria. I have loved you for a long time. I had to give you time to get over your husband's death."
     In the next five minutes, Busagwa was on his way out, anger stirring in his heart like the foaming turbulence of a waterfall. How could Maria make him plead ? How could she make him confess the word love ? Love was but a dog rotting by the roadside. What did she think she was anyway ? A rich woman ? Love ? When his own parents hated him ?
       It doesn't quite humanize him, but it adds another dimension to the character, and Namukasa is quite good at slipping such bits in throughout the book.
       The Deadly Ambition is in many ways a roughly-written book, the prose not exactly polished (though fluid and even at its most awkward very readable) and the plot a bit over-the-top and often too abrupt. But it has the appeal of popular fiction: even where unbelievable or not entirely fleshed out there's enough to grip the reader.

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The Deadly Ambition: Other books by Glaydah Namukasa under review: Glaydah Namukasa: Other books of interest under review:
  • Index of books relating to Africa under review

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About the Author:

       Ugandan author Glaydah Namukasa also works as a midwife.

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© 2007-2021 the complete review

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