When Trouble Sleeps is an exceptional thriller for those who like their crime fiction on the dark side. Set in Nigeria, this is the second in the Amaka series, and if all Naija Noir is this good – bring it on. Novels don’t often have the power to unsettle me, but when they do, like this one, it’s because I can feel that the darkness at the heart of the story is real. When Trouble Sleeps is terrifying and thrilling in equal measure. This is a real page turner; tense and gripping – the sense of danger is palpable. It’s a powerful tale of corruption and depravity that can hold its own with the best noir fiction from anywhere around the world. I missed Adenle’s first novel Easy Motion Tourist when it was published last year but as soon as I started When Trouble Sleeps I bought a copy online. I have read crime novels from Nigeria before, the political situation there is ripe thriller material and the country is fascinating but Adenle takes it to a new level. This stylish novel is beautifully paced and the intricate plot is cleverly layered. The story fizzes with action delivered in short, sharply written chapters. There is so much going on here, all very easy to follow, the pace never lets up and the balance between the threads of the story is really well judged.
It all begins when Chief Adilo Douglas offers his new girlfriend, Titi, a ride to the capital, Abuja, in his private jet. He is heading for a meeting with the President, Douglas is a shoe in to be the next governor of Lagos State. The pilot is Titi’s old fiancée, Captain Olusegua Majakodumni, Douglas is teaching Titi a lesson about loyalty. Something goes wrong on the flight and the plane plummets out of the sky.
Amaka, wants to help sex workers, she knows that Malik, a vicious pimp, is after her. As she drives thorough the Oshodi district market a hostile crowd steams past her car, men waving machetes and sticks, shouting. These vigilantes catch a young man, a thief. Amaka rings her old friend Inspector Ibrahim for help but he is on the way to a plane crash. Ibrahim warns Amaka not to get out of the car, not to get involved. There is nothing that anyone can do to prevent the young man being necklaced (tyre and petrol), but a girl steps forward to help him anyway and the crowd turn on her, Amaka can’t stand back any longer. As she steps in she sees the girl hit by a pipe and then everything goes black.
Ibrahim and his Sergeant approach the crash. “A woman shouted to Jesus to save the poor souls but there was no saving anybody down there.” So he relents and sends Hot-Temper and a couple of men to Oshodi to help Amaka. Amaka survives but her phone, lap top, money and passport have been stolen in the confusion around the murder. At the crash site there are armed men fending off the crowd and even the local police – party loyalists (thugs with AK47s). The plane has flown into chief Douglas’s house. What Ibrahim finds strange is that Douglas was on the plane – the most likely candidate for the governorship died crashing into his own house.
Chief Olabisi Ojo wakes in the presidential suite of the Eko Hotel. The girl he was with, Iyabo, has gone, she has taken his phone’s memory card and he will do anything to get it back. His wife, Matilda, has discovered that he was entertaining the girl at the hotel so he fears the worst when he is summoned by her father, Otunba Oluawo, the lion of the Yoruba. One of the most powerful men in Nigeria. However, Otunba wants Ojo to run for Lagos State Governor, after the death of Douglas he has a chance. Under certain conditions: “You see, rigging is a necessity. If you don’t rig your opponent would still rig, so you have to rig just to counter their own rigging, and in the end one person wins and the other goes to court to challenge the outcome of the election.” They are prepared to go a long way to win: “For the election. We are no longer playing games. We have to match them naira fore naira, gun for gun, bullet for bullet.”
Amaka is searching for The Harem, Malik’s brothel for rich men hidden outside the city. One of the women, Florentine, was beaten within an inch of her life there. When Trouble Sleeps (it never does!), is a tale of wealth and political corruption, of sexual violence against women and children, of police collusion and Amaka, a woman prepared to stand up for right, it could cost her everything.
This is a thriller loaded with atmosphere, a real insight into Nigerian politics and the complexity of local alignments (power bases, manipulation, godfatherism and corruption). It has a very contemporary feel but also a flavour of the local dialects and customs. Amaka is a formidable woman, very brave, I hope we see a lot more of her in the future.
Cassava Republic Press is a Nigerian publishing house with a base in London since 2016. Adenle is one of several crime writers published or about to be published by this exciting venture. The quality here is fantastic and if this standard is maintained, this is an independent publisher worth watching. I look forward to seeing what they come up with in the future.
Paul Burke 5/5
When Trouble Sleeps by Leye Adenle
Cassava Republic Press 9781911115632 pbk Sept 2018