Review: Easy Motion Tourist

Nigerian author Leye Adenle introduces fans of crime fiction to the staggeringly corrupt city of Lagos in his debut novel, Easy Motion Tourist. In a spare style reminiscent of Raymond Chandler, Guy Collins, an inexperienced British journalist new to Lagos, navigates the city. His misadventures begin abruptly when he stumbles upon a horrible crime: the all-too-real phenomenon of ritual killing, a gruesome practice involving the removal of human body parts in order to perform black magic. When he's arrested and interrogated by local police, he's acquainted with the brand of rough justice that leads many Nigerians to be "as scared of their police as they were of killers."

Collins is also introduced to Amaka, a cross between a vigilante and a guardian angel, who tries her best to look after the working girls of Lagos and get revenge on the men who abuse them. Amaka explains: "Prostitution is illegal in Nigeria so nobody watches out for these girls. They are molested, extorted, short-changed, raped, killed, you name it.... What you saw, it has happened before. Not like that, not so openly, but at its worst that's exactly what we try to prevent." She springs Collins from jail and the two of them embark on a dangerous mission to find out who's responsible for the ritual murders.

Collins and Amaka are the most important characters out of a cast of dozens. For a short novel, Easy Motion Tourist is packed with feuding killers, prostitutes, police officers and the opulently wealthy inhabitants of Victoria Island--a city-within-the-city that serves as a reminder of the metropolis's incredible inequality as well as the main source of the police's funding. Adenle's characters bounce around Lagos and into each other like pinballs, sparking surprising moments of violence, betrayal and temporary alliances. Adenle is skilled at evoking a sense of spontaneity and chaos even as he carefully orchestrates the action.

The title is a reference to a song by the Nigerian group the Harbours Band, and is used by one of the characters to describe Collins. The song is about a "nocturnal misadventure," an understated label for Collins's often-nightmarish journey through Lagos. The man's comparison makes the implicit point, however, that the British wanna-be-journalist is getting only a brief taste of the razor's-edge world many inhabitants of Lagos have to deal with every day. The vast inequality that Adenle notes, after all, is a microcosm of the global inequity that benefits Collins.

Not that Easy Motion Tourist is concerned with preaching. In what could be read as a hat-tip to Elmore Leonard, even the most hardened criminals often come off as pathetic and impulsive rather than cartoonishly evil. The novel is a wild read, surging back and forth from seedy underbellies to the equally threatening halls of wealth and power with uncompromising speed. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Shelf Talker: Easy Motion Tourist is a fast-paced debut that follows a British journalist and a Nigerian vigilante as they attempt to track down the perpetrators of shocking ritual murders in Lagos.

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