Making Wolf by Tade Thompson

The Blurb On The Back:

Meet Weston Kogi, a London supermarket store detective.  He returns to his West African home country for his aunt’s funeral.  He sees his family, his ex-girlfriend Nana, his old school mate, Church.  Food is good, beer is plentiful and telling people he works as a homicide detective seems like harmless exaggeration, until he wakes up in hell.

He is kidnapped and forced by two separate rebel factions to investigate the murder of a local political hero, Papa Busi.  The solution may tip a country on the brink into civil war.  Making Wolf is the outrageous, frightening, violent and sometimes surreal homecoming experience of a lifetime. 

You can buy MAKING WOLF by Tape Thompson from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Weston Kogi fled Alcacia in West Africa 15 years ago.  His Aunt Blossom helped him get on the last flight out after the country fell into rioting and civil disorder following the mysterious death of the leaders of the main political parties in a bombing widely considered to have been organised by the military junta.  He and his sister Lynn now live in London – although not together – and he works as a supermarket security guard while dipping in and out of Open University courses, trying to work out what to do with his life.

Weston never planned to return to Alcacia but when Blossom dies he feels that he has to pay his respects at her funeral.  It should be easy – fly in, stay 48 hours in Ede City for the ceremony and then fly out again.  But at the funeral he bumps into Churchill ‘Church’ Okuta, who used to viciously bully him at school and in a bid to impress him, pretends that he’s a murder detective.  

Unfortunately, he does too good a job of convincing Church who kidnaps him and takes him to the base of the Liberation Front of Alcacia (LFA) where the Supreme Commander tasks Weston with the job of discovering who murdered Enoch ‘Pa’ Busi (a respected diplomat trying to broker peace between the LFA and their rivals, the People’s Christian Army (PCA)) and, ideally, try to pin it on the PCA.  Then the PCA separately kidnap and coerce Weston into carrying out the same investigation but trying to pin it on the LFA.

With both rebel groups following his every move, Weston knows that escape isn’t an option.  Fortunately his ex-girlfriend Nana is willing to help him while Church is also a useful source of information and assistance.  As Weston digs deep into Alcacia’s murky politics and the mysterious circumstances of Busi’s death, he’s forced to confront his own family history and relationship with Alcacia if he’s got any hope of getting out of this alive …

Tade Thompson’s hard-boiled noir makes excellent use of its fictional West African setting to send its main character on a nightmarish investigation beset by violence and corruption.  However, the mystery plot doesn’t quite hang together, I needed more of Weston’s London life to flesh out how Alcacia is changing him and the female characters are noticeably under-developed for femme fatales.  Saying that though, I would definitely read a sequel.

I picked this up because I haven’t read many crime thrillers set in African nations and while Thompson sets this novel in a fictional West African nation (located between Nigeria and Cameroon), it still rings very true.  Thompson has a vivid way with description that really brings the various locations to life and I thoroughly enjoyed the way he brings in Yoruba language and culture – it fleshes out the people and places – and the political situation (which is front and centre of the plot) works really well to ramp up the danger and the stakes.

Having Weston as a returnee brings more depth to the setting as well because while he has some knowledge of how Alcacia works, he’s not up-to-date and his life in Camberwell has made him forget how things are done.  Thompson puts him on a journey where you can see him getting darker and darker as he’s affected by the corruption and violence around him but I couldn’t help but think that this would have been even more effective had we got more of his life in Camberwell to understand where he was starting from.  It would have also helped to explain why he’s so gullible around women and doesn’t question some of what he’s being told.

Speaking of the women, I was a bit disappointed at how under-developed the female characters were in this book.  I had high hopes for Nana who is clearly really intelligent and savvy but she gets sidelined half-way through and while Pa Busi’s widow Diane is a classic femme fatale, I still wanted more depth – especially given some revelations near the end.  Also missing is the detail of Weston’s relationship with his Aunt Blossom who was clearly a character but who is little more than name-checked on the page.

Also disappointing is how the plot kinda unravels in the final third of the book with sudden revelations and developments that haven’t really been signalled early on.  I was also disappointed at how dependent Weston is on Church or Nana leading him to the next plot point, which does make sense in the early stages of the book but later on as he makes more contacts I was hoping that he’d take more of an initiative.  On the plus side, Thompson writes action scenes very well and while there’s a lot of graphic death in this book, it’s not cartoonish and does fit the themes and story points in the novel.

Notwithstanding my criticisms, there are tantalising elements of the story here that offer scope for future books, most notably Weston’s complicated relationship with his estranged father but also in light of plot revelations on each of Church, Nana and Diane – all of whom could bring a lot to future stories.  And I have to reiterate how much scope Alcacia as a setting offers for future books with its mix of cynical and desperate people, all trying to stay alive or secure more money and power.  As a result, although this book didn’t quite come together enough for me, I would nevertheless definitely read a sequel to it and I would also check out Thompson’s other books on the strength of this.  

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