Although this book would be classified as fiction, it does take its main idea as the real Nigerian letter scam that was making the rounds of Calgary’s (and likely the worlds’) email addresses. The evening news on several different TV stations had warnings from the police and consumer reports to beware of these unsolicited ways to rip people off not that long ago.
On page 113, we learn along with Laura-one of the surviving adult children of a father who was scammed out of all his money, including the family home, and who then committed suicide-all about 419.
“Four one nine?” (Laura asks. And then the police officer explains):
“That’s what they call these scams. The name comes from the section in the Nigerian Criminal Code that deals with obtaining money or goods under false pretenses. Any kind of fraud, really. It’s entered the lexicon over there.”
This story begins in Calgary, with the first section being titled Snow, and Laura who is the person who takes up the protagonist role. We also meet Winston, the young Nigerian who 419’d Laura’s father. The second section, Sand, takes the reader on a trip into Nigeria’s desert north, as ‘she’ another lead character, walks south carrying her water can on her head, looking for places to rest her growing belly and herself; then back to Laura, as she learns more about the e-mail lies and pleas for help that the police have recovered from her father’s computer. We later learn that this ‘she’ is named Amina. Fuel, the third section, follows Nnambi in the southeast swampy area of Nigeria. Nnambi gets chosen to work for ‘Shell’ (the name for any oil and gas company working in the mangrove swamps) and manages to hone his mechanical skills. Nnambi loses his job when the locals, who have been getting sick and dying from the pollution of the ‘Shell’ decide to riot- burning rigs, cutting into pipelines and stealing the oil. Nnambi finds work as an apprentice mechanic, then as a partner/mechanic/truck driver in hauling stolen oil to the capital to be sold to the police. In the last section Fire, these 4 characters come together in the story in Lagos. They don’t actually all meet each other, but Laura does meet each of them-and the reader can see how they are connected. The ending was a little sad but not surprising.
There are some truths in this work of fiction: the Nigerian letter (e-mail) scam, corruption in the government and police, poor and desperate people stealing hydrocarbons from pipelines and occasionally blowing themselves up (these things have been in the news), and the unfortunate fact that in some places without strong legislation for environmental protection, companies do cut corners in order to make bigger profits. There is a gangster who controls and runs some of these scammers-and although I don’t have proof, I suspect this is also a truth.
Although I did have a little difficulty initially in jumping back and forth from Calgary to Nigeria, and it took a bit to know who ‘she’ was in the sand (at first, I thought it was Laura, and it took a bit to work out that it was a new character), overall I would have to stay that the story is very engaging, and this is a GREAT book!
Reviewed by Kathy Lewis