Not every suspense tale features among its main characters a Nigerian accounting student, a lightly fictionalized version of Frank Sinatra, a Chinese secret agent and Lucifer.
The story takes place in the late 1990s when Shola, an accounting student, is forced to abandon his comfortable life in Lagos after the country’s military regime targets his family for political reasons. Working as a waiter in a pretentiously upscale New York restaurant, he has a chance meeting with a Hollywood director who impulsively casts him as a slave in the Civil War drama she is filming. At the same time, Lucifer is trying to bring about the end of humanity by manipulating China and the United States into a nuclear confrontation. The two plotlines converge when Shola is accused of several gruesome acts of murder that were actually committed by one of Lucifer’s band of fallen angels. Olatunde’s writing is marked by a rambling, discursive style that may put some readers off; it’s not uncommon for the action to be interrupted by a multipage aside about Chinese history, Nigerian university gangs or the JFK assassination. Sloppy editing impedes the flow of the narrative and several characters inexplicably change names over the course of the book. But the novel comes alive when it concentrates on Shola, whose neurotic, bemused and lightly misanthropic sensibility provides the first-person narration with humor and keen insight into Nigerian and American cultures. Early chapters set in Nigeria are particularly effective at giving a wry, deadpan look at how a fiercely intelligent, somewhat self-absorbed young man manages to exist in a world of danger, dysfunction and limited options. Shola’s arrival in New York is well-observed and Olatunde also offers solid detail on day-to-day life, from the complex interplay of a large family in mourning to the chaos of Lagos bus stops. Sections dealing with the angels, spies and the intrigues of Lucifer’s plot are broader and less grounded in reality but engaging nonetheless.
Olatunde’s lively imagination and wicked sense of humor maintain suspense and keep the plotline from tiring in this international, supernatural, semifarcical thriller.