(2020) Tade Thompson, Constable, £8.99, pbk, 259pp. ISBN 978-1-4721-3120-1
Sometimes the lines blur between science fiction and other forms. Do you need robots, aliens and time travel, the future, speculative science and flying cars? Probably not, but at least one of these elements might be nice. Making Wolf has none, but it is set in a fictional African country. You could call that speculative fiction if you like (no science is involved) but if you did you’d have to scoop up hundreds of other non-genre works by the likes of Charlotte Bronte, Arthur Conan Doyle and Vladimir Nabokov. But all fiction is essentially speculative, right? And Tade Thompson has definitely got form in the genre (nominations for Campbell Memorial and BSFA Awards, genre writer endorsements on the dust jacket) and is a Clarke (book) Award winner for his Rosewater books. Isaac Asimov used to write crime fiction too, with nary a robot in sight. So I’m not going to be picky over definitions.
Okay, maybe a little. Because this is crime fiction, set in a tiny country splintered off from Nigeria, with larger than life villains and revolutionaries (scarily believable) and a fish out of water protagonist with a Teflon skin.
Weston Kogi travels from his dead end security guard job in London back to his homeland Alcacia for his Aunt Blossom’s funeral. She raised him after his mother died and his father effectively disowned him. When he gets there, though, he is seduced by his old girlfriend Nani and recruited (against his wishes) by opposing revolutionary groups to investigate the murder of peacemaker Papa Busi. The investigation is a sham, a PR distraction to divert attention, but Kogi makes progress despite the many distractions coming his way, from abductions to murders, bombings and interrogations by the secret police. He goes through a personal transformation along the way – capable of more than he could have imagined and with his naivety stripped away – to the extent that he can instigate an impressively noisy finale.
There are some great characters here – from the casually evil Church to the rapacious widow Diane, and it is a miracle Kogi is able to hold his own with them. But his situation is precarious – he’s in a metaphorical den of vipers – and the chances of getting out of Alcacia with his life get slimmer with every page. There are some surprising twists too – just when you think you’ve got the measure of Alcacia and its strange, corrupt characters something new and surprising happens and you have to shift your perceptions yet again.
Although this is the book’s first mainstream release in the UK it did get a limited release elsewhere in 2015 and its writing predates Thompson’s earlier published novels. Consequently, at times the writing has a first novel feel to it – raw but full of energy. And that’s not such a bad thing.
Making Wolf is a fast-paced action thriller dripping with atmosphere. It’s also crying out for a sequel so if you come across the author propping up a convention bar, feel free to demand one. Because that’s what I intend to do.
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