Black Star Nairobi is the second in series pairing Ishmael Fofona, erstwhile Madison, WI cop and David Odhiambo, ex-detective with the Criminal Investigation Department in Nairobi. Notice the “former” designations. At the end of the first novel in the series, Ishmael decided to leave Madison for Nairobi and, together with O(dhimabo), set up the Black Star detective agency. The reference to the Black Star Line of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association, a vocal advovate of the “back to Africa” movement among African-Americans in the early part of the 19th century seems both tongue-in-cheek and serious. Ishmael more than once confronts the in-between feeling of living in Kenya while being US-American.
The story starts with a terrible bombing in the days leading up to the 2007 elections that were marred by widespread communal violence. While US-American intelligence assume an attack by Al Shabaab, the Somali Al Qaeda affiliate, Ishmael and O pursue a different trail. The bomb was placed in such a way that it could not have been a quick and dirty attack. Video surveillance reveals that almost a year earlier, a van with several men, including a European looking one entered the basement of the hotel. The trail leads quickly to a shadowy organization that’s been meeting at the Nairobi Hilton. In the pursuit of the mastermind, Ishmael, Muddy (his female partner), O and Mary (O’s wife) are forced to go back the US (smuggled in via Mexico) to uncover the depth of the conspiracy, which is yet another example of how the rest of the world thinks it knows what’s best for Africa
The novel is a quick read and the setting, particularly getting caught up in the ethnic violence after the election results have been announced, is well developed and frighteningly real. The violence is a bit over the top. Bodies drop left and right and the body count isn’t really necessary for the story to work. Still, I’m looking forward to more from Ishmael and O.
- Black Cherry Blues by James Lee Burke
- The Danger of a Single Story