Monday, September 17, 2018

... and now, from Nigeria: Easy Motion Tourist and When Trouble Sleeps, by Leye Adenle

When I was asked by Emeka at Cassava Republic Press if I'd like to have a copy of Nigerian writer Leye Adenle's book When Trouble Sleeps, I couldn't say no.  I'm always looking for something different in crime reading in these days where "The Girl Who" or "The Woman In" sort of thing floods the shelves and leaves me sort of meh about modern crime writing,  and frankly, Nigerian crime fiction sounded exciting to me. I wasn't wrong.

  In her email I read that this book was "the highly anticipated sequel to the award winning Easy Motion Tourist," so I immediately picked up a copy of that book.  While you can read When Trouble Sleeps as a standalone, it really does work much better reading the two together; I did so I'll be talking about both books here.

Cassava Republic Press, 2016
327 pp

The first thing to know about Easy Motion Tourist is that even though it's narrated partly from the perspective of  a British journalist who becomes involved in the action quite by chance, the star of this show is a young Nigerian woman named Amaka. 

As the novel opens, Guy Collins has just arrived in Lagos, and wanting to get out of his hotel to "see this country I'd heard so much about," he takes a suggestion from the concierge and goes to Ronnie's bar, hoping that he would be able to share his Nigerian experiences with his now-estranged, part-Nigerian girlfriend on his return to the UK.  Instead, he happens on the murder and mutilation of a prostitute , dumped in the gutter just outside the club, which he is told is a ritual killing. Eager to get in on "breaking news," he realizes that 
"a ritual killing captured on video a few minutes after the incident was bound to be worth something,"
and goes out with his phone to do some filming. Lying to the cops who have shown up, he tells them he's with the BBC, but publicity is the last thing the police want, since the crime occurred in an area called Victoria Island, "one of the few enclaves of relative safety in the city," where the police are paid to keep crime from happening.  The relative safety is "an illusion" which is "guarded religiously" by those who lived on the Island, but it also brings in tourists who freely spend money.    Guy is quickly arrested and taken off to the police station, where he is rescued by a woman named Amaka, who also believed he was from the BBC.  She has a story of her own that she wants him to cover.   Her mission is to protect the prostitutes of Lagos, and has uncovered disturbing information about some very powerful and wealthy men who she believes just may have something to do with the murder, and also with the girls she works so hard to keep safe.  And it is these people who want Amaka and Guy taken care of, at any cost and in any way necessary.

Cassava Republic Press, 2018 (US, 2019)
323 pp

When Trouble Sleeps follows the harrowing ending of Easy Motion Tourist, picking up the action only twenty-four hours later.  This book shines a light on corruption in politics, and follows the upcoming state elections.  The story begins with the crash of an airplane carrying the leading gubernatorial candidate. It is an important election, not just for whoever might emerge the winner, but also  for "whoever controls him."    To fill the void, the party chooses a replacement, a man that Amaka knows all too well, and against whom she has proof of crimes of a particularly heinous, repellent nature.   When he discovers that she knows what skeletons there are in his past that could bring him and his party down and cost them both the election, he will stop at nothing to get rid of her.  But he is not her only problem -- she also has to deal with the fallout from events in Easy Motion Tourist and face the man she knows is responsible for crimes and sheer depravity against the women under her protection.

I'll be the first person to admit that fast-paced action thrillers aren't really my thing, but I was pretty much glued to both of these novels for several reasons, mainly because of  the author's ability through words to bring Lagos alive and make it real for people like me who have never been there. The action moves through this city of contradictions and complexities as we're taken though the street markets and slum neighborhoods, which in some cases the police won't venture into except at night because it's too dangerous by day, then on into the more wealthy spaces where it's obvious that the residents do all that they can to isolate themselves against the poor and the poverty of this city.  For example, in When Trouble Sleeps, the residents of certain luxury enclaves have the power to "divert state resources to guard their homes," or can actually cause officers to be reassigned to worse places because they didn't understand that their job was to "protect the rich."

The real draw, of course, is the central character Amaka, who is devoted to taking care of not just sex workers but other vulnerable women whom she senses may need her help.  As one of the characters in Easy Motion Tourist notes, "she is the only hope for so many desperate girls in Nigeria,"  and in speaking of sex workers in both novels,  my hat is off to this author who understands that for many women here  "prostitution was not a choice; it was a lack of choice."     While in that book Amaka works with a British man, she is the one to watch; this is not a story where the British man takes control and all is made right again -- in fact, in When Trouble Sleeps he's back in London so her crusade falls mainly on her own shoulders.

I won't lie --  both books can get pretty violent which is not usually my thing, but really, I didn't get the sense that I do in so many thriller novels that most of the violence on the pages is gratuitous.  And considering that I don't particularly care for thrillers, it is what lies underneath all of the violence and action in these books that really came through and made for seriously good reading: a picture of a city that most of us know only through the news; it is also a story of  the people who live there.  Very much recommended, probably for people who read more on the darker, edgy side -- it's not pretty, but then again I don't think pretty was the author's intention here.   Well done, and if this is an example of what Nigerian authors can do in the crime fiction zone, I want more.

 My many and sincere thanks again to the good people at Cassava Republic Press for my copy of When Trouble Sleeps. 

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