Tuesday, February 26, 2013
The Honey Guide
The Honey Guide, by Richard Crompton
Police procedural/detective novels are ten-a-penny these days, many of them formulaic and rather predictable in terms of character and plot - putting aside the masters of the genre, that is. Fortunately, Richard Crompton's novel sidesteps falling into the usual traps by virtue of the fact it is set in Nairobi, Kenya.
Anybody who has lived in Nairobi for any length of time, as I have, knows that the police force has limited access to modern policing techniques such as advanced forensics, vast computerized databases, and highly trained specialists. Even the guns look so old and rickety you wonder if they would ever fire - which is desirable since they are often casually wafted barrel-first at your head by the officer sitting next to you on a bumpy bus. As a result, Mr. Crompton's book is a back-to-basics detective novel, in which the main protagonist Mollel - a Masai cop whose wife died in the US Embassy bombing - must track the murderer of a prostitute through old-fashioned legwork.
Complicating the investigation is the violence that erupted following disputed 2007 presidential elections, which sees Mollel following his lead through an increasingly chaotic landscape, and being sucked into corruption and political shenanigans in the process. Mollel himself is a fascinating character. While he has the obligatory demons, his are not the hackneyed issues of failed relationships and alcohol. I won't go into any of them to avoid spoilers.
The novel is meticulously plotted, offering up red herrings aplenty along the way and keeping the reader guessing as to the identity of the killer until late into the book - although perhaps the more astute reader of detective fiction will figure it out sooner.
The writing very much leans toward the literary. Not a word is misplaced as Mr. Crompton paints a vivid picture of a capital city in which the thrust of capitalism has created an environment in which sprawling mansions and sparkling malls exist cheek-by-jowl with grinding poverty. Not that he lingers on this poverty: the energy and drive of ordinary Kenyans, an extraordinarily entrepreneurial and forward-looking people, comes through strongly. There is no weepy-eyed Western aid worker perspective here.
While having the aforementioned literary bent, from the opening scene where Mollel dispenses justice to a bag snatcher via a thumping kick to the nuts with steel toe caps to the climactic scene amidst a bloody riot, the story zips along with pace and verve.
This is the first in a series, and it looks likely to be one that keeps bringing readers back for more. The blurb says that Mr. Crompton will do for Nairobi what Ian Rankin did for Edinburgh. He has a long way to go before he pulls off that particular trick, but the early signs are that it is well within his grasp.