Leye Adenle’s Easy Motion Tourist is an adrenaline rush and a tingling page turner written in the very best tradition of the urban crime novel; fantastic characters, exotic locales, sexy ladies, sex, more sex, blood and more blood.
Set in Lagos, Africa’s biggest urban conurbation, the action, which takes place over the course of what approximates to two days (nights) is propelled by two central characters, Guy Collins, a British hack and Amaka, an avenging angel.
Guy, smarting from a failed relationship and ostensibly on a journey of discovery, accepts an assignment to come to Nigeria and cover the elections. He has accepted the assignment without thinking it through thanks to a jibe from ex-girlfriend Melissa Iyiola.
Arriving Nigeria, nothing works as planned and heading out to a bar frequented by prostitutes, Guy witnesses what would have been a journalistic scoop but just as he is trying to make sense of it all, he is arrested.
Cue the avenging angel.
Amaka, a lawyer who doubles as the Patron Saint of Lagos prostitutes sweeps into the police station and springs Guy and so begins a tag team effort to unravel something dangerous and violent and bloody; unexplained disappearances of Lagos prostitutes and what appears like a burgeoning trade in human parts ostensibly for fetish purposes especially with elections afoot.
“‘Killers. They removed her breast for juju, black magic. It is those politicians. It is because of elections. They are doing juju to win election.’ He wrapped his arms round his body and hunched his shoulders upwards, burying his neck.” (P.17)
Mr. Adenle scores high marks for his deft subversion. The reader and characters are primed for the fetish and occultic, this being Africa but the story springs a surprise that universalises the problem making it more a question of greed rather than third world atavism.
Leye Adenle is a story teller with a gift for the dramatic:
“She was on her back, her head turned to the side, her eyes wide open, her mouth frozen in a gasp. One arm was above her head and the other somewhere behind her back. Her legs lay one on top of the other. Someone had covered her torso with a white shirt. It was red in the middle and the blood was slowly spreading.” (P.27)
And he has written a novel which packs into one story, such an exciting cast of characters not seen since Chris Abani’s Graceland, Maik Nwosu’s Lagos novels, Invisible Chapters and Alpha Song as well as Ben Okri’s magnum opus, The Famished Road.
Let’s take a quick inventory; Catchfire, the cowardly criminal with a thing not just for women but the good things of life. His boasts set Knock-out on his ill-fated hunt for a human heart.
Knock-out, the midget with the hair trigger temper, whose impulsive action after robbing a woman in Victoria Island leads to very violent and dramatic consequences.
Go-slow, the criminal with a heart and his head firmly fixed on his shoulders who is the perfect counter point to Knock-out both in size and temperament.
Chief Amadi, the stereotypical criminal mastermind masquerading as a pillar of society.
Amaka, the lawyer committed to righting the wrongs of the past by helping the poor and the vulnerable.
Ibrahim, the principled policeman chief, working within a broken system.
Then there are the fringe players; the Iron bender gang; the ex-boxer brothers turned thugs-for-hire; Hot-temper, the trigger happy policeman, and the shadowy Malik whose cameo at the end of the book hints at a sequel.
The novel reads, sometimes, like a soap opera with a noirish accent; everyone connected to the other in a convoluted Six Degrees of separation which is what Lagos is, a city where everyone is up in the other person’s business without seeming to.
Writers who write about Lagos are often confronted by a difficult challenge, one of girth and comprehension. Lagos is huge and therefore difficult to fully comprehend and then there is the little matter of gaining a firm handle on what, and how that what, happens differently on the Island and on the mainland which even though parts of the same city are as different as night is from day.
Taking that into account, Knock-out shouldn’t have attacked the prostitute in Victoria Island. Allen Avenue and Surulere would have presented better opportunities with less fuss made by the police.
To commit such a crime on Victoria Island is to murder sleep and thus set us on a rollicking page turning ride.
This problem of girth and comprehension is usually more obvious in the cast of characters. Most of the characters are types and while they provide the fast paced action that propels the narrative they end up looking like caricatures, cartoonish characters that seem to have been filched from Sin City.
This descent, almost, into phantasmagoria is not peculiar to Easy Motion Tourist. It is a recurring feature in novels about Lagos and it is evident from Okri to Abani, Nwosu to Adesokan.
Contemporary Nigerian writers when confronted with the challenge of trying to come to terms with the conundrum that is Lagos choose to reinvent the city, to re-imagine it. The Lagos we, therefore, find in most contemporary Nigerian fiction is usually not one we would recognise. The picture of Lagos our writers paint in their novels is a phantasmagoric Lagos: bloated, strange, fantastic and exotic. There is a certain other worldliness to the city they evoke in their novels.
Mr. Adenle writes “Tears kept rolling from the woman’s eyes. She trembled as if she was going into a fit but she managed to take one hand away from her mouth and without looking, point at one of the gang members on the ground. In a swift motion, Hot-Temper swung his gun up to point at the ceiling, cocked it in a flash, brought it down to his waist, and fired a single deafening shot into the head of the fingered man. The smell of gunpowder filled the air. The woman let out a scream and collapsed. Someone shouted ‘Jesus.’ My cellmates moved closer to the wall. I stood, open-mouthed, unable to believe what I’d just witnessed. I think I shouted ‘fuck’ over and over again, but I couldn’t hear a thing; I was temporarily deaf from the bang. Hot-Temper was holding his gun aimed at his victim and quivering with laughter as if he had just played a practical joke. But it was no joke. The fellow’s head was splattered all over the cell floor: brain, blood and bits of skull.” pp.84 -85
When Chief Amadi arrives Catch-fire’s house, Catch-fire offers him girls as if they were kolanuts.
“The girls started dancing. Catch-Fire took a moment to admire them then he turned to his guest. ‘My Chief, these girls are from Cotonou. They dance Makossa very well and they fuck like dogs. Please, take your pick.’ The girls undressed. They had colourful beads around their waists, bouncing as they danced in their thongs. Some of them had not been wearing underwear. A girl with nipple piercings poured Amadi’s brandy and pulled his hand to come to the dance floor. He smiled and remained on the sofa. ‘Chief, please, pick anyone you like.” P.103
And then at another point we read of a man dishing out money to mercenaries in the middle of the street just by Ojuelegba.
“Under the table was a rucksack full of money. A scrawny man in a yellow LA Lakers shirt was next in line, having fought off challenges from other thugs. He placed an old rifle on the table and folded his arms. The seated man studied the gun. It was impressively large, but it was rusty and held together with black electrical tape.
‘E day fire?’
‘Yes. Well, well.’
‘You get bullet?’
‘Oya, sound am make I hear.’ The man picked up his gun and raised his right leg, wedging the butt of the weapon onto it to cock it. The crowd retreated. He raised his rifle into the air and fired a shot. The crowd cheered…Catch-Fire was watching from a window upstairs. He had sent a message to the local thugs and they responded by turning up in front of his house armed with machetes, guns, catapults, and sledge-hammers. They were pickpockets, burglars, extortionists, hired heavies, and general ne’er-do-wells. All they had to do was show a weapon and they would earn the right, and some money, to be forever known in the area as one of Catch-Fire’s bodyguards.” P.226
The novel suffers, in places, from continuity. The biggest howler happens with Amaka and Guy.
On page 154 Amaka says to Guy: ‘I was brought up by house girls, maids. When I was young my parents were away a lot. My father was a diplomat. My mother didn’t want me to keep changing schools so I stayed in Nigeria.”
But on page 219 when Aunty Baby tells Guy: “Her father was an ambassador, you know?’
Guy says to himself “She had not told me this.”
Finally, the prologue does the novel a huge disservice. It adds nothing of substance to the narrative. Apparently tacked on to set the tone and mood of the novel it ends up looking like a vestigial appendage while leaving many questions unanswered. And it is also the least realized part of the book.