A review of Nairobi Heat by Mukoma Wa Ngugi, Melville House, Brooklyn, NY 2011.
This book is a quick read crime/detective story along the lines of books by Dashiel Hammett. It is, however, for the most part ,set in Kenya. The hero is a black Chicago cop who traces the perpetrators of a murder to Nairobi. There he is befriended by a Kenyan cop and the two of them proceed to get shot at by legions of assailants as the plot unravels. Of course, they shoot back. Bodies are lying about everywhere with apparently no consequences for shooters on either side. The main plot is cleverly orchestrated involving Rwandan refugees, ruthless NGO personnel and conniving businessmen. In some respects the plot is quite feasible. Additionally, there is a boy meets girl subplot. Throughout the story the Chicago cop mulls over his personal identity. How American or how African is he? (This theme probably reflects the author’s own quest as he, the author, is Kenyan, but raised in Chicago).
Although the author Mukoma Wa Ngugi, son of the famous Ngugi wa Thiongo, should know better, he manipulated climate and geography in order to suit the story. Fiction writers can do that. In order to double entendre the title, he had the protagonist arrive at Nairobi’s airport in the early morning amidst sweltering heat. Cognoscenti know that in the hours before dawn, Nairobi is anything but hot. Later in the story, the cop team flees to western Kenya driving non-stop for eleven hours to a village near Busia, on the Ugandan border. Even a country bus can make that trip in eleven hours, in a car it’s no more than six.
The joy of this story is in the reading of it. It is fast paced and reality rarely intrudes. The Kenyan setting is an added bonus.