In his first novel, Easy Motion Tourist, the Nigerian writer Leye Adenle introduced us to Amaka, a lawyer turned protector of commercial sex workers. Amaka is the only child of Ambassador Mbadiwe, one of the old-moneys of Lagos—old enough to own property in old Ikoyi. Through the eyes of Guy Collins, a British journalist posted to Lagos to cover the upcoming Nigerian elections, the book explores the ritual killing or the trade in human body parts: the street gangs that kidnap and kill, and the Lagos big men who commission the street gangs. Guy, Amaka, and Inspector Ibrahim, an officer in the Nigerian police force, unravel a web of killers that reach as high as the commissioner of police, and just as the commissioner is unmasked as the directing mind of the enterprise, the book ends.
In Adenle’s second novel, When Trouble Sleeps, the story opens just a few days after book one ends. Guy Collins is back in London and Amaka, just like Adenle, is no longer interested in kill-for-money gangs. The task at hand is to uncover and take down a prostitution ring, which is disguised as an exclusive social club, by following the trail of a working girl, Florentine, who was beaten and left for dead by Chief Ojo, a patron of the club. While Amaka hunts down Malik, the owner of the club, a political assassination sees Chief Ojo become the Lagos gubernatorial candidate of one of the two major political parties. So, Amaka must avoid death by Malik, who wants to put an end to her meddling in his business, as well as death by Chief Ojo and his political cohorts, who want to ensure that she does not stifle his long-held political dreams by revealing his varied criminal sexual dalliances.
In her quest against Malik and Chief Ojo, Amaka co-opts everyone that can help—the Nigerian Police Force, the Navy, and even the opposition political party. She also has several unknown allies along the way, double agents and turn-coats who reveal themselves just in time to salvage the story. It is hard to imagine the story sustaining itself, or Amaka remaining alive, without these random accomplices.
The cast of characters in When Trouble Sleeps are familiar, not only because they feature in the first novel, but also because they are recognizable as everyday Lagosians. Adenle tames cynicism in his readers by infusing the story with characters that are distinctly Nigerian: from political godfathers to trigger-happy policemen. He successfully captures the grit of Lagos life: from a mob scene in Oshodi market fueled by a false allegation of theft to young people serving as political thugs to mete out violence against members and supporters of opposition parties.
Adenle presents a thriller told through the eyes of Lagosians and thankfully removes the probing gaze of Guy Collins that trailed the first book. When Trouble Sleeps is written in Adenle’s distinct style: short vignettes and detailed-oriented prose that renders every chapter or sub-chapter a movie scene, so the reader flips the pages with anticipation of how the cliff-hanger from the previous chapters will resolve.
Notwithstanding the abundance of suspense, the resulting hunger isn’t always satiated. Some characters fall in and out of the story without any explanation, like the sister of YellowMan, a political thug, who is kidnapped because of her brother’s activities but of whom we hear nothing further. In another scene, Inspector Ibrahim is caught between two factions of his team, one loyal to him, the other lured by the promise of money from an apprehended suspect, both groups with their guns drawn and again, the book ends without any hint as to how the scene resolves. In yet another scene, Amaka is engaged to a Lagos gubernatorial candidate, “Tiffany Diamond sparkling from her ring finger,” and a few scenes later she is on a flight to London to meet Guy Collins.
The phrase “The End” that signs off the book does little to put to rest the many questions the book raises.
Perhaps they will be answered in the next Amaka thriller.