Nothing is what it seems. This aphorism seems to aptly summarise Nducu wa Ngugi’s new novel The Dead Came Calling.
For, while it has all the makings of a whodunit, it eschews the well-known structure of the traditional murder mystery, where detectives spend time peeling away onion-like layers of evidence, until the culprits are revealed near the end.
In a breakaway from the conventional thriller storyline, The Dead Came Calling uses cliff-hangers and suspense to not only keep you guessing the next twist, but also to dash any conclusions you may have jumped to based on previous hints.
This narrative technique—of creatively alternating false hints with shocking twists—has lately been made popular by undercover operations TV series such as CSI, which incidentally the author mentions somewhere in the novel.
The Dead Came Calling is the story of Jack Chidi, an investigative journalist with the Daily Grind.
Chidi receives a call from Anarupa Mehta, the wife of Vishal Mehta, an Indian business magnate whose body has been found in his garage.
Chidi knows nothing about the Mehtas, and the puzzle gets complicated when Anarupa tells him that Vishal had said that the famous investigative journalist should be contacted should anything go wrong.
Jack reaches out to his contacts in the criminal investigations world to find out not only who killed the Kenyan of Indian extraction, but also to find out why exactly the slain tycoon wanted him to investigate his death.
The investigation starts with hints from friendly detectives, and a visit to the office block where the slain tycoon worked.
Teaming up with Otieno, a humorous fellow journalist and a couple of police officers, the hunt for Mehta’s killers takes Jack all the way to Texas.
The novel artistically compares life in Kenya with that in the US, satirising American eccentricities and scoffing at the misconception that the West is superior to Africa.
Nducu’s novel straddles serious and popular fiction. It has the hallmarks of a thriller, and it explores serious themes, including the role of the media in crime, race relations and human trafficking.
Nducu is the son of Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the eminent California-based Kenyan author.
Also published in the Spear Books series are books by Nducu’s siblings: Nairobi Heat, a novel by Mukoma wa Ngugi, The Fall of Saints, by Wanjiku wa Ngugi, and Seasons of Love and Despair, by Tee Ngugi; which confirms them as a writing family.