Black Star Nairobi by Mukoma Wa Ngugi
Melville International Crime, June 2013
P.I. Ishmael book 2
FTC Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher via Edelweiss.
Black Star is the name of the detective agency run by two former police officers: the African-American Ishmael and Kenyan O. The story begins with the hungry-for-work pair taking on a case passed on to them from the police: the murder of a man found in the forbidding woods hours outside Nairobi. Almost immediately, a massive bombing of a hotel in Nairobi is connected to the murder they are investigating, and U.S. embassy and CIA handlers are also involved in the case. What started as a PI procedural turns into an international political conspiracy thriller.
In many ways, this is a disorienting book. The main character is an African American police officer turned private detective in Kenya: we get an outsider’s perspective of Kenya and Kenyan crimes. The violent parts of the book, of which there are many, are also jarring. The action shifting from Kenya to North America is another disorienting shift in the case (how do you work within the law in your home country and outside the law in another). But, most importantly, the precarious political position of Kenya on the eve of and after a disputed election is key. How on earth do Ishmael and O do their jobs during this time and after all the horrible things that happen to them and those they love during this case? It’s a bleak book. A search for a murderer turns into a search for a bomber of many and his twisted motives. But it’s not an unrelentingly bleak book. There are funny and happy scenes sprinkled throughout the story. O and Ishmael’s scenes in the beginning section of the novel are pretty funny.
This was an interesting read for the big political and ethical issues it raises, but the plotting felt a little slow to me. I think that’s because the only other international conspiracy thriller that comes to mind for me is Bloodland by Alan Glynn. Despite the plotting issue, I want to see where this series goes next.