Saturday, January 11, 2014

Nigerian Mystery: FOREIGN GODS INC, Okey Ndibe

From Nigerian Okey Ndibe, who teaches African literature at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut -- and whose political commentaries have a long track record ( -- comes a crime novel that crosses Donald Westlake with Saul Bellow and Joseph Conrad. Published through Soho Press (not the Crime division), it challenges genre boundaries and indulges in a delicious chunk of paranormal ... or is it all in the mind of Ikechukwu Uzondu after all?

This upscale cab driver with the nickname of Ike -- not pronounced like Eisenhower's nickname, but rather as "Ee-kay" -- was named "God's strength" in his Nigerian family. Yet it seems his life's barren of grace. With a degree from a prestigious American college and a marvelous resumé, Ike can't get the bank or corporate jobs he longs for ... due to his charming but "difficult" accent, a residue of the Old Country. Nor has he fulfilled his mother's expectations for him; he has even stopped sending money to her, and never even told her about his American marriage, which has already failed.

But Ike has plans: He's found a very, very upscale New York City gallery that sells "foreign gods" and he's going to go home to Nigeria and kidnap the one that his family tends, a wooden item that's been endowed with the spirit of the god of war: Ngene. And by selling this to the gallery, he will finally be rich and well regarded.

This isn't an art theft thriller -- it's way more complicated than that. Because Ngene really has power (as do the other "foreign gods" already at the gallery!), and Ike is clueless about the depth of trouble he's stepping into. In his struggle to achieve American success, he's tangling with Old Ways that haven't lost their power. He should have guessed his own ties to those ways, from what happens to him each time there's a storm ...

FOREIGN GODS INC follows the Donald Westlake path because it's a caper novel and involves (oh, lovely!) taxi cabs ... Saul Bellow in Henderson the Rain King comes to mind as Ike tangles with forces of nature he's forgotten about ... and the malevolence of Heart of Darkness underlies the inevitable disaster ahead, one that the reader knows is coming, long before Ike realizes what he's done to his own dreams and life. Let this be the first on your Nigerian mysteries shelf -- or shelve it next to that master of well-meant criminal disaster, Donald Westlake himself. It's a worthy companion!

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