I first stumbled on a copy of Leye Adenle’s crime fiction novel “Easy Motion Tourist” at the 2016 edition of the Ake Festival. However, I was not sure what to make of it, so i passed it up.
However, after listening to him render a few excerpts of the book during a short reading that took place late last November at the Rele Art Gallery, Onikan, Lagos, I decided to give the book a look-in. My interest was further piqued after I saw the book garner positive reviews in the British press.
The novel’s title is drawn from the 1970s/1980s song recorded by the Harbours, a band led by highlife legend Fatai Rolling Dollar. The song, inspired by an incident where a member of the band was locked out of his house after a gig, talks about a night out in the city. (This fact is highlighted at a later point in the novel.)
The novel itself, set in contemporary Lagos, witnesses various characters whose lives are forced to collide after the discovery of a prostitute’s mutilated body outside a nightclub. There is Guy Collins, an English lawyer-turned-journalist who comes in from London to cover the presidential elections and savours the chance to visit the home country of his ex-girlfriend; Amaka, a lady with a privileged childhood, who runs a charity organisation committed to ensuring the safety of commercial sex workers while slowly trying to get them off the streets; Inspector Ibrahim, a police officer eager to save his head and earn the respect of his superiors; Hot-Temper, a no-nonsense law enforcement agent who hates the idea of diplomatic tactics in crime fighting; and Chief Amadi, the billionaire whose source of wealth is unknown.
One major danger in scribbling third person narratives is the tendency to overlook the perspectives of characters other than the protagonists. Leye Adenle rides out this danger successfully, treating us to a rich insight into the backstories of the various individuals that make up the novel, while at the same time avoiding the trap of muddling up the plot with too many characters. As a result, everyone relevant to the story, from heroine to henchmen, gets their character graced with some narrative flesh.
Easy Motion Tourist takes our eyes on a journey through the heart of Lagos, albeit with a different twist: it’s not just about the sight and sounds now; the novel deals with the humanity of the city, from the ones who trade their bodies to get by each day, to the spoilt rich inhabitants of the more developed areas. Leye’s description of the city lights is not bad either, and for someone who lives outside the country, his portrayal of areas like Obalende and venues like Bogobiri are pretty spot on.
Leye also uses his narrative prowess to highlight a few teething problems that plague the city’s residents and equally mirror a number of societal challenges. He sheds light on prostitution, as well as the complex web of organised crime, effectively juxtaposing the scourge of ritual killings with something more complex and less talked about – organ hawking. The attitude of the Nigerian Police Force is brought to the fore as well, and the portrayal of our “friends” as an effectively functioning unit may get some eyes rolling; it is fun to see that not everyone sees them as the cowardly individuals who love to extort civilians.
Leye’s 332-page piece offers something fresh in describing the modus operandi of criminal gangs in Nigeria. We don’t really get much from the Crime Report sections of national dailies, so it is cool to see Nigerians crouch, roll, stack sophisticated weapons and get into shootouts, similar to the stories we hear about Mexican drug cartels.
The novel however presents us with a few talking points which prevent it from being an absolute masterclass. Leye succumbs to the lure of stereotyping localities, not to mention the small matter of national image; surely, there is more to Obalende than cheap brothels.
The author also misses the mark at certain portions of the book; the part where Amaka got Guy Collins bailed out does not appear like a typical police setting. The closing parts of the book itself read like something from a 1990s Hollywood action click: good guy knocks out villain, girl gets saved, then she kisses good guy and realises that she is in love. That’s not how Nigerians roll!! We don’t just fall into romance like that. Those parts of the book may appeal to a foreign audience, but they are not Nigerian enough. The novel ends like it would have a sequel, and Leye mentions that himself.
It is hoped that these shortcomings are fixed in what follows. Leye Adenle churns out a well-scribbled crime-themed novel, but just falls short of a classic.