An African Affair

A gutsy journalist attempts to expose the corruption of the Nigerian government in the hot, sticky atmosphere of Lagos.

An African Affair, by Nina Darnton, Viking Adult, 272 pp.

In the hot, sticky climate of Lagos, Nigeria, a simple task like going to sleep can be difficult for Lindsay Cameron. The suffocating night air is still as thoughts of drug smuggling, murder, lies and cover-ups swirl in Lindsay’s mind. She believes that her responsibility as a journalist is to expose the deep corruption of the Nigerian government. But is it worth risking her life, paying bribes, shaking off a threat from the Nigerian president, and getting kidnapped? Without hesitation, she answers: “Yes.”

Nina Darnton’s An African Affair offers an insider's view of life as a foreign correspondent in Nigeria in the mid-1990’s. (Darnton spent five years in Nigeria working as a journalist and plans to make this book the first in a series of thrillers drawing on her experiences there.) Living without the security of e-mail, a landline phone, or sometimes even electricity, Lindsay must depend on the few relationships she has in Lagos to keep her sane. While it seems as if the adrenaline of her job could keep her going forever, love interest James Duncan provides a relief from the high-intensity activity of story-chasing.

The novel begins with the arrival of Lindsay’s closest friend, Maureen, who is on a brief assignment in Lagos as a reporter for the Associated Press. Although they are best friends, Maureen is Lindsay’s opposite. Maureen is married to an American diplomat, pregnant with her first child, and only in Lagos temporarily. Lindsay, however, has never taken the time to get into a serious relationship or let her emotions loose. Lindsay has also been in Lagos for four months already, and does not plan to leave until she reveals Nigeria’s corruption to the world.

By now Lindsay is accustomed to driving in the “go-slows,” or traffic jams that make getting anywhere in Lagos take three times longer than it should. On her way to the US Embassy one day, the traffic is so bad that it spurs her to get out of her car. Normal congestion isn’t the cause of the traffic jam that day, but rather a large protest against fictional Nigerian military dictator, Gen. Michael Olumide. As she scribbles down what she sees in her reporter’s notebook, Lindsay witnesses a solider bash a young protester’s head with a club and then cart him off in a black van.

That same night, Lindsay attends a party at the embassy during which she talks to a few officials and fellow journalists before meeting James, an art dealer seeking West African art for one of his New York clients. Just after she has made plans for a date with James, a dead body washes up on the banks of the nearby river. Lindsay then sneaks away, passes security, and somehow gets close enough to see that the dead body is the young man who the soldier hit with the club earlier that day. This is just the beginning of the complicated story of corruption that Lindsay must uncover.

Intertwined with her ruthless reporting are, surprisingly, Lindsay’s emotions. In terms of her career, Lindsay knows exactly what she wants. She ignores her feelings in order to stay focused on whom she needs to interview and how she’s going to write a story without being killed. But while one chapter ends with Lindsay discovering a crucial detail and quickly filing a story to her New York office, the next begins with Lindsay trying to decide what to wear for her dinner date with James.

Such transitions – from thrilling suspense to gushy love – can create a bumpy ride for the reader although at least they do provide relief from Lindsay’s frequent run-ins with the wrong people and the risky situations which result.

When Lindsay finally gets a long-awaited exclusive interview with Gen. Olumide he warns her of the chances she is taking. But that only makes her more intrigued and more determined to uncover what is really going on within the government. Her kidnapping, the death of her housekeeper’s son, the murder of several key sources, and the death of a close friend would force most people to retreat. But Lindsay wants answers.

Every time Lindsay discovers one more detail, her professional and personal lives become more complicated. She wants to open herself up to James, but she’s focusing on the latest covered-up murder, protest, or new key player in the corruption mess. The end of the story includes a twist that further complicates Lindsay’s life – and confounded my own expectations as to how the novel would end.

Chloe Stepney is a Monitor contributor.

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