Mukoma wa Ngugi, Nairobi Heat

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Why did I get this book?

My colleague Carina Yervasi got me thinking a few years back about my perception that African literature and film tended to have a kind of didactic, formalist and stilted quality, for all that I liked some of the work that I thought of in those terms. She mentioned that there was lots of good mystery and thriller writing across sub-Saharan Africa in recent years, and not just local market/pulp literature. This was one of the books I picked up to try and get a sense of this kind of work.

Is it what I thought it was?

Yes, almost too much so. Meaning that the book reads to me almost like a conscious attempt to write against the didactic, written-for-the-West quality of older African literature (the author is now a professor at Cornell University), so it feels a bit like it is that interesting space that is not quite a genre work but wants to productively use genre conventions. Strong sense of indebtedness to Walter Mosley in that sense.

What continuing uses might I have for it?

Could use it in my Africa Travellers/Travellers to Africa course if I teach it again. Wish I had used it this last year, in fact.

If I ever teach a course in histories of crime, policing, smuggling, shadow economies, etc. in Africa/British Empire/comparative, it might be fun to use it.

Obviously belongs in any listing of recent thriller/detective work set in Africa and/or by Africans. Might make a very interesting book to be read alongside something like Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency, etc: white authors trying to use Africa as a backdrop for thrillers/detective stories.


“If I was to give advice to black criminals, I would tell them this: do not commit crimes against white people because the state will not rest until you are caught.”

Asides, loose thoughts, unfair complaints

There’s something about the voice of the main character that doesn’t quite ring right to me, maybe because there’s a kind of odd unsituatedness about his actual work as a cop, and also because there is still the odd hint of the didactic in the way that characters announce and reflect on their sociologies and cultural locations in a way that’s too diagrammatic. But also just it’s really too on the nose or generic at points–the character thinks stuff like “This tea is amazing!” in a way that feels lacking in craft or sharply observed. I wonder if the second book is better in this sense?