Lagos Noir: Chris Abani (ed.)

Published by Akashic Books and Cassava Republic Press

“Lagos never sleeps. Ever. It stays awake long after New York has faded in a long drawn-out yawn, matched only by the vigil of Cairo. …

“By the way a man sits smoking on the hood of his burned-out Mercedes-Benz, it is clear he wants you to know that this is all temporary. He will be rich again. By his feet a rat skulks for cover.”

This extract from the introduction by Chris Abani, editor of this collection, conveys the feel of Lagos. It is not only the largest city in Nigeria, but the largest megacity in Africa, and if taken by itself, the fourth-largest economy on the continent.

These noir stories are not all about actual crimes but capture what Abani calls the “unsettled darkness” of Lagos, the darkness that lies at the heart of every big city. The stories range from children pushing the boundaries of their parents’ authority to actual murder, and they all tend to leave you a little unnerved.  

Obituaries often extol the virtues of the deceased, even when they do not really reflect the truth. Luke Adewale’s obituary in Sarah Ladipo Manyika’s “The Swimming Pool” is no exception. In reality, Mr Adewale was a bully hated by his wife and daughter. He died in an accident in his swimming pool. But was it really an accident or had someone simply had enough?

In Abani’s “Killer Ape”, set around Nigeria’s independence, Detective Sergeant James Okoro investigates the death of a man in a predominantly white neighbourhood. The wife insists that her chimpanzee killed him, but Okoro, applying the methods of Sherlock Holmes, is not so sure. In the end he has to choose between revealing the truth and destroying a life, or letting the chimp take the blame.

Showlogo, the thug who is the protagonist of Nnedi Okorafor’s story, is being pursued by a couple of corrupt cops. When they try to arrest him, he outwits them and leaves them tied to a tree. This is not something the cops are going to easily forget: they have been badly humiliated. Soon Showlogo—the “One Man Mopo” who needs no help from anyone—finds himself taking desperate measures to save himself.

In A. Igoni Barrett’s “Just Ignore and Try to Endure”, a man tries to find lodgings in a better neighbourhood. He finally thinks he has found what he is looking for, but has to deal with an intimidating landlady and a war with a big brown rat. The narrator in Adebola Rayo’s “What Are You Going to Do?” gets her revenge on the men who cross her. A maid inveigles her way into her employer’s life in Wale Lawal’s “Joy”.

These are some of the stories in this book. To quote Abani’s excellent introduction, “Together, these stories create an uncharted path through the centre of Lagos and out to its peripheries, revealing so much more truth at the heart of this tremendous city than any guidebook, TV show, film, or book you are likely to find.”

Lagos Noir forms part of the Akashic Noir Series, a series worth looking out for. Good crime fiction goes beyond a simple whodunit to expose deeper social issues. Lagos Noir definitely does this, and is a pleasure to read. It is also a great introduction to some very talented Nigerian writers.

Buy from UK / USA

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