Book: Killing Sahara
Author: Mukoma Wa Ngugi
Publisher: Kwela Books
Year of publication: 2013
Number of pages: 229
Genre: Crime fiction
We have met Ishmael Fofona the African American detective in African literature before. He was introduced to us by Mukoma Wa Ngugi when he wrote his first major book Nairobi Heat which came out in 2009 published by Spear Books. He is a policeman in based in Wisconsin, USA who had to follow the trail of a murder of a white girl that led him to Kenya. While in Kenya he meets with Kenyan police detective Tom Odhiambo who goes by the moniker “O” and hooks up with Muddy a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide who in Nairobi is a spoken word artist.
Killing Sahara is the second in the Fofona detective series this time published by Kwela books. In this one, Ishmael has relocated from the US and is now based in Nairobi where he runs the Black Star detective agency with his pal O. He is also dating his spoken word artist Muddy from the first book. The government gives the Black Star agency a crime to solve; investigate a body found in Ngong forest in Nairobi and figure out what may have caused the death of its owner.
They follow the trail of the dead man who the crime lab tells them is not Kenyan miro (black) but in actual fact an American miro. With this information Ishmael is very motivated to find the killer of his fellow countryman (or rather country person – the word “countryman brings the chills down many of us in Kenya right now with all the deaths). The investigation gets a break on the next day after a bomb attack at the Norfolk Hotel in and they slowly start piecing together a story although too much is unknown at this early stage.
As they are in the middle of investigations Mary, the wife of O, is killed by some the bad guys who invaded his home one of whom called himself “Sahara” from the T-shirt he was sporting. Sahara escapes with the help of an enterprising member of his team after the act it is assumed back to the USA. The trio Ishmael, O and Muddy with the help of the CIA follow him back to the US through Mexico and onto his base in California. Here they find more clues to the case and they have to go back home to solve what looks like one of the biggest cases a Kenyan detective could solve. The End.
Now the interesting thing about the two Ishmael Fofona books is the body count. It’s like the books are written with the hope that when they comes out it will be directed by Michael Bay. After the bomb blast which kills dozens (as opposed to “tens”, Kenyan media) the trail of dead bodies starts piling most of whom are dispatched to their maker by the trio of Ishmael, O or Muddy. They kill folks in Limuru when people are looking to kill O because he was from the wrong tribe as he goes to bury his dead wife. They kill many of Sahara’s team at O’s house before the American flees to his homeland. They kill folks as they are smuggling their way into the US. They kill folks in the US especially those associated with Sahara. No one is safe from this trio. Paraphrasing something Martin Lawrence says in the Bad Boys movies franchise to the Will Smith character Mike Lowry, it’s like the three are a magnet for random gunfire. And Muddy does a pretty good impression of the Gabrielle Union character in the second Bad Boys (fortunately she doesn’t do the girly thing they do in Hollywood movies of being kidnapped so that the good guy saves them.)
Then there is the post election crisis that we suffered in 2007/8 which the characters find they have to deal with. It is an instrumental part of the plot as they see the country as it starts falling apart before heading out to the US and they return the madness is winding down. The description of this part of our history is very useful and I suspect that this could be Mukoma’s “post election book” and he is quite sensitive to both sides of the madness as no one was in the “wrong” where citizens were concerned. I really appreciated that.
The characters really grow on you. The main protagonist Ishmael Fofona we have already met and he is pretty cool; his thunder is clearly stolen by Kenyan cop O though. We all know a guy a like O; hard as nails but happy to show a different side of him when the need arises. And he is still making his omelets in this one; I hope he learns to cook something else soon especially since he is now a widower. Then we have spoken word artist Muddy who was also part of the RPF who liberated Rwanda who is lady like in her craft as an artist but still tough as nails during the many shootings she has to endure in this book.
The other guys in the book are also distinct and I have to say the most compelling one has to be “Sahara” himself when we meet him. He has a screw lose but he is an amazing one with his weird empathy for Africa.
I loved the new locations in the book. I would never have imagined that a person would have thought of involving Tijuana in a Kenyan book as a conduit to get into that country. The research done showed me a writer who was willing to put in the hours to make their book a more interesting read.
This book is much better that Nairobi Heat. In fact I could hazard to say that, using my best Jeff Koinange voice…. Oh my! This Killing Sahara book is smoooking! And its only Wednesday that this review is coming through.
Get a copy if you can folks. Quality.