Nairobi Heat

( 8 )


For fans of smart foreign crime books, an action-packed crime story in an unusual setting—Kenya—and rooted in fascinating African history

In Madison, Wisconsin, it’s a big deal when African peace activist Joshua Hakizimana—famous for saving hundreds of people from the Rwandan genocide—accepts a position at the university. Then a young girl is found murdered on his doorstep.

For local police Detective ...

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Nairobi Heat

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For fans of smart foreign crime books, an action-packed crime story in an unusual setting—Kenya—and rooted in fascinating African history

In Madison, Wisconsin, it’s a big deal when African peace activist Joshua Hakizimana—famous for saving hundreds of people from the Rwandan genocide—accepts a position at the university. Then a young girl is found murdered on his doorstep.

For local police Detective Ishmael—an African American in an “extremely white” town—it seems like the kind of crime that happens in an area where the Ku Klux Klan still holds rallies. 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 Ishmael to a place still vibrating from the surrounding genocide, where big-oil money rules and where the local cops shoot first and ask questions later.

And although it’s the land of his ancestors, it becomes a disorienting and terrifying quest through the slums of Nairobi, a place where knowing the truth about history can kill you.

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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.)
From the Publisher
"Nairobi Heat takes us to Kenya with a refreshing authority... Besides the usual fun and thrill of crime novels, what makes the book a delicious read is that it’s also packed with engaged and relevant social commentary."
—The New York Times

"If you're weary of the glut of Scandinavian crime fiction, take a trip to Kenya's teeming capital city. " —The New York Post

"A fast-paced hard-boiled crime novel... We suggest you pick up a copy if you know what's good for you." —Flavorwire

"Just as the works of James Ellroy and Carl Hiaasen dig beneath the glitter of Hollywood and South Beach, respectively, to reveal a nasty, fetid underside, [Nairobi Heat] rips away images of the Sahara and safaris and goes beyond nightly news pictures of deprivation."—The Fort Worth Star-Telegram

"Ishmael Fofona, Ngugi's detective, may not as yet have taken over from Kurt Wallander in our affections, but I'm hoping it's only a matter of time."—The Telegraph (UK)

" action-packed cross-cultural ride, crackling with detail garnered from the author's experience reporting on the African communities in which this story is set." —Barnes & Noble Review

"An engaging insider's view of the cultural divide between Americans and Africans." —Publishers Weekly

“Ngugi’s ability to weave a complex narrative, which connects crime and racial tensions in the US to an in-depth knowledge of Kenya and its nuances, to Rwanda and its genocide past within this African crime thriller, is nothing but the work of a genius craftsman and wordsmith.”New African Magazine

Nairobi Heat’s biggest triumph is the way it forces us to re-examine accepted narratives and received truths.”The Mail & Guardian (South Africa)

"[A] welcome discovery."—

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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781935554646
  • Publisher: Melville House Publishing
  • Publication date: 9/13/2011
  • Series: Melville International Crime Series
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 501,812
  • Product dimensions: 8.16 (w) x 5.58 (h) x 0.56 (d)

Meet the Author

Mukoma Wa Ngugi was born in Illinois but raised in Kenya. The son of world renowned African writer and Nobel contender, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, his own poetry and fiction has been shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African writing in 2009, and for the 2010 Penguin Prize for African Writing. He is currently based in Cleveland, Ohio, where he teaches at Case Western University.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 20, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Greed, Trickery, and Justice

    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

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 12, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    The worst killers are the survivors. They know that life is cheap,

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2012

    Emjoyed it

    Great mystery, excellent character development

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  • Posted January 25, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    unique mystery

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2014

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 3, 2011

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