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Nairobi Heat

Nairobi Heat

3.6 9
by Mukoma wa Ngugi

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A cop from Wisconsin pursues a killer through the terrifying slums of Nairobi and the memories of genocide

IN MADISON, WISCONSIN, it’s a big deal when African peace activist Joshua Hakizimana—who saved hundreds of people from the Rwandan genocide—accepts a position at the university to teach about “genocide and testimony.


A cop from Wisconsin pursues a killer through the terrifying slums of Nairobi and the memories of genocide

IN MADISON, WISCONSIN, it’s a big deal when African peace activist Joshua Hakizimana—who saved hundreds of people from the Rwandan genocide—accepts a position at the university to teach about “genocide and testimony.” Then a young woman is found murdered on his doorstep.

Local police Detective Ishmael—an African-American in an “extremely white” town—suspects the crime is racially motivated; the Ku Klux Klan still holds rallies there, after all. But then he gets a mysterious phone call: “If you want the truth, you must go to its source. The truth is in the past. Come to Nairobi.”

It’s the beginning of a journey that will take him to a place still vibrating from the genocide that happened around its borders, where violence is a part of everyday life, where big-oil money rules and where the local cops shoot first and ask questions later—a place, in short, where knowing the truth about history can get you killed.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The discovery of the body of an attractive young blonde woman on the Madison, Wis., doorstep of Joshua Hakizimana, popularly known as the "black Schindler" for his courageous life-saving efforts during the Rwandan genocide, propels Ngugi's improbable first novel. When the high-profile police inquiry stalls without an ID of the victim, who was strangled, African-American detective Ishmael flies to Nairobi in response to an anonymous caller who tells him the truth behind the killing lies there. At the airport, Ishmael is met by his Kenyan counterpart, David Odhiambo, and soon the two are struggling to survive multiple gun battles. Ngugi (Hurling Words at Consciousness, a poetry collection), who was born in the U.S. but raised in Kenya, provides an engaging insider's view of the cultural divide between Americans and Africans, but some gaps in logic—such as no one in the U.S. recognizing the murder victim—may bother mystery fans. (Sept.)
Library Journal
This compact debut novel is set on a sprawling stage from East Africa to Wisconsin—and the issues it raises are just as large. Detective Ishmael, an African-born, American-raised black man, is investigating the death of a white woman found on the doorstep of an African professor—a noted activist who had rescued victims of the Rwandan genocide—in a very white suburb of Madison. A mysterious phone call sends Ishmael to Africa in search of the truth behind the professor's humanitarian agency and Ishmael's own ambivalence toward Africa. The story unfolds with minimal characterization but also offers scintillating, atmospheric descriptions of Kenya and sharp insights into the politics of postgenocide Rwanda. The author is a prize-winning poet (Hurling Words at Consciousness), essayist on African politics, and son of noted African writer Ngugi wa Thiong'o. Like his protagonist, Ngugi was born in Kenya and grew up in the United States. VERDICT This will appeal to fans of thrillers set in exotic locations and readers interested in exploring the experience of African/African American men in society as recounted in the works of Walter Mosley and other authors. [Highlighted in M.M. Adjarian's mystery preview, "Dispatches from the Edge," LJ 4/15/11.—Ed.]—David Clendinning, West Virginia State Univ. Lib., Institute

Product Details

Melville House Publishing
Publication date:
Melville International Crime
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Penguin Random House Publisher Services
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File size:
2 MB

Meet the Author

MUKOMA WA NGUGI is a novelist and poet, whose books include the novel Nairobi Heat and the poetry collection Hurling Words at Consciousness. He was short listed for the Caine Prize for African writing in 2009 and for the 2010 Penguin Prize for African Writing. 

His columns have appeared in the GuardianInternational Herald Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times, and he has been a guest on Democracy Now, Al Jazeera, and the BBC World Service. His stories and poetry have been published in the Kenyon ReviewKwani!Chimurenga and Tin House Magazine, among other places.

Mukoma was born in 1971 in Evanston, Illinois and grew up in Kenya before returning to the United States for his undergraduate and graduate education. He is currently a professor of English at Cornell University.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Nairobi Heat 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
beachlover20855 More than 1 year ago
The call came at 2 AM from the police chief of Madison, Wisconsin - a murder had been committed in the wealthy exclusive enclave of Maple Bluff. Detective Ishmael Fofona, an African-American on the "mostly white police force" in an "extremely white town," knew that if the call came directly from the police chief there had to be a political angle to the crime. An unidentified beautiful blonde woman is found dead on the front steps of the home of Joshua Hakiziman, an African professor who is world-famous for saving hundreds of people from the Rwandan genocide, so this will be the news event of the year and resolving this crime could be a career-defining event. Joshua does not know the girl, and has an air-tight alibi. The police are stumped until Ishmael receives an anonymous call stating that if he wants to know the truth he needs to go to the source - Nairobi. In the gritty thriller, Nairobi Heat by Mukoma wa Ngugi, Ishmael will take a journey to Africa; a place he never gave much thought about, to find justice for an unknown woman, and finds out how volatile, illusive and contradictory justice can be. Nairobi Heat could have been an ordinary detective novel but due to the author's storytelling abilities and his lyrical wordsmithing the reader is provided with a fast-paced complex thriller of a mystery. Ishmael is the narrator of the story and it is through his eyes as an African-American the nuances of the Kenyan culture is explored. One of my favorite passages in the book is: "Soon enough I found myself outside the airport in what felt like a market - a wall of people shouting and heckling, selling newspapers, phone cards, even boiled eggs. But it wasn't the people that stopped me in my tracks, it was the heat. The heat made New Orleans on a hot summer day feel like spring. Humid, thick and salty to taste, that was Nairobi heat." But, luckily for Ishmael he is paired up with O, a Nairobi detective. As the pair of detectives search for the truth, the reader is shown how crime and crime detection is different in a particular country. As in a crime story there are good guys and bad guys, but the well-developed characters all come across as individuals with their own complexities. It is through these characters that the larger issues of genocide, political corruption, NGOs, and Kenyan culture are revealed to the reader. The story does not blink at showing the ugly truths, but the tone is never preachy. I was thoroughly entertained and informed by reading this story and read easily in one session. Mukoma wa Ngugi is definitely a wonderful addition to the mystery genre and I look forward to his future books. I recommend this book to readers who like a well-developed plot and international crime stories. This book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Reviewed by Beverly APOOO Literary Book Review
Dirty_Lowdown More than 1 year ago
Most books are lifted from the realm of '"just good" to "great" usually through the advancement or elevation of parts of the writers craft. Story, plot, characters, pacing, structure, etc...Think Raymond Chandler and his elegant use of language in a tough guy setting or James Ellroy and his staccato sentences and telegraphic prose style. Others use original themes in the pacing - James Patterson's short chapters for instance drawn almost as scenes from a film or Hemingway's short, declarative sentences. Other great authors are able to achieve greatness through inventing plot devices - the locked room mystery, the MacGuffin, the Deus ex machina. Still others rise above the norm through using or revealing not just realism, but relevant story lines that shine the light of truth on society - Dashiell Hammett did this in his hardboiled stories by writing stories about corruption in small town business and government. Revealing what is there, but seldom seen or recognized by the general public. Nairobi Heat by Mukoma Wa Ngugi does just that and becomes more than just a good book. Nairobi Heat rises above being just great "international noir, it's a peek behind the curtain of racial relations and points of views; between African Americans and how they perceive white Americans and between African Americans and how they are perceived by black Africans. This alone would have made for a thought provoking book, and an important addition to the crime fiction world, but Mukoma Wa Ngugi took it one step further and explored that murky world and motives of international charities, foundations and religious zealots, and how the rest of the world pays for their conscience. The book is very much plot driven, but at the same time the characters drive the story as they develop - `O' and his family unveil African life for Ishmael, and he meets and gets to know Artists, women, white Africans, the folk lore and the recent history of Africa on his quest to uncover the motive, and thus the murderer. Ngugi not only writes Africa, but writes great noir in this somewhat disturbing, but beautiful piece of crime fiction that breathes that rarified air of great fiction. There is a certain deliberate cadence to the prose in the telling that works very well and the narration is excellent. The dialogue is real without being cliché. The twists and turns of the tale are a morass because so many characters have so much invested in keeping the truth behind the curtain. But Ngugi uses these twists that could otherwise bog the story down to draw a picture of Kenya and her people and also the people and organizations big and small that have their own agendas in mind, whether in enriching themselves or in helping the people. There is blood and violence as the bodies pile up, but it hardly seem gratuitous since Ngugi is so successful in conveying that sense of place that is Africa.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
No plot. No character and very little atmosphere. I am at a loss to understand what anyone sees in this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great mystery, excellent character development
obeythekitty More than 1 year ago
I enjoy mysteries set around the world and I'm interested in Kenya, so I was a bit disappointed that the book wasn't longer and more fully developed. but it was entertaining, and somewhat illuminating of the culture clash for the African American cop. by the way, don't read it for the Madison WI connection, it's so vague he could have used a fictitious American city.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago