Nairobi HeatBook: Nairobi Heat

Author: Mukoma Wa Ngugi

Publisher: Spear Books

Year of publishing: 2009

Number of pages: 212

Nairobi Heat is the debut novel of Cornell literature professor Mukoma Wa Ngugi and it was published by Spear Books in 2009.

The book speaks of black African American police Detective Ishmael Fofona who is investigating the death of a blonde white girl in Bluff, Maple Madison, USA. At the scene of the crime he meets with Joshua Hazimana who is a professor at a local university. The good professor is also an African, a gentleman from Rwanda who it turns out had been a hero who ensured that people escaped the genocide squads aka genocidaires. Think of him as a black Oscar Schindler.

Ishmael gets an anonymous call telling him that he should go to Kenya to find out the killer and with no leads on the identity of the girl opts to head to the green city in the sun Nairobi. Here he meets with Nairobi police man David Odhiambo who goes by the name “O” for the rest of the book. While here he gets to the bottom of a tale involving NGOs, foundations and death and distraction especially with ones at the centre of one of the worst human tragedies in a century the 1994 Rwanda genocide. It is a compelling tale well told by a writer who can really really really really really (too much?) write.

The book is as action packed as you would ever see from a Kenyan writer. The adventures that the two fellows Ishmael and O go through make me think that this is the best script for an African version of the Bad Boys movie trilogy as there are so many dead bodies by the end of the book died mainly by bullet. Crazy stuff I tell you.

I love seeing my city in Nairobi with the new eyes of Ishmael who doesn’t seem to have any of my prejudices. He sees the city in its best and worst light possible which I appreciate as I am not a fan of writers portraying characters in their books who you would imaging work for the tourism board of a country they work in. He keeps it real! *Dave Chapelle voice*

We see a Mathare that has a young school girl being raped without anyone doing anything about it until hero Ishmael comes to the rescue leading to death of at least five. Good for him he prevented the rape of a school girl. We see Muthaiga where the rich live in their huge residences away from the masses. We see people in River Road immortalised by Meja Mwangi. We see folks living away from the city in semi-rural settings just outside the city.

Even as Ishmael goes through with the intrigues I have to wonder if is a bit too observant for someone who had never ever had any interest in Africa till he fly there and has been there for only a few days. “Africa, where people never wear seat belts” one of his many observations sounds less than a guy who had been to the US and back more than a guy that had come to visit after just a few hours.

In spite of the “super observant” Ishmael I really enjoyed this character and the general way the writer develops him. Ishmael is a gentleman who came from a middle class family and refuses to go the white collar route like his parents going instead into the police force. He is a divorcee who has still not fully come to terms with his having moved on after his divorce. Also interesting were some of the support characters; O and his school teacher wife, sexy singer who was once a refugee herself Muddy.

There is even the entry of a character called Lord Thompson who kills two Africans a poacher and a KWS officer who is thick in the plot. He reminds me a lot about our favourite Kenyan expatriate “poacher exterminator” Thomas Cholmondeley.

Ishmael goes through a lot to solve the case of the dead white blonde girl. I recommend you follow him on his wild chase through Nairobi and its environs.

P.S. While we are on Rwanda stuff I recommend you read Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor‘s Weight of Whispers. Thats some awesome awesome writing there.