Tuesday, June 25, 2013

419 by Will Ferguson

419 by Will Ferguson
Viking Canada
ISBN: 9780670064717
Published: March 27, 2012
Hardcover, 416 pages

The moment I saw the haunting book cover – the partly-covered face of a beautiful woman in blue robes, her face marked by tribal scars – I was attracted to this book. The numbers 419 refers to the section of the Nigerian criminal code that deals with getting money or goods under false pretenses. This book takes readers into the world of Nigerian Internet scammers and the resulting devastation to their victims.

The story begins in cold, snowy Calgary with the police finding an elderly man dead following a car crash that appears suspicious. Upon searching his computer files they discover that he was the victim of a 419 Internet scam based in Nigeria, a scam so complex, so technical that it is almost impossible to trace. It begins with: “Dear Sir, I am the daughter of a Nigerian diplomat and I need your help.” The father thinks he is saving the life of a Nigerian girl and would eventually make a lot of money. But, the scam cost him his life savings, the family home, and his life. The man’s daughter, Laura, travels to the backstreets of Lagos, Nigeria to revenge her father’s death and run her own scam on the scammer!

The scene switches to hot, dusty Africa where the reader is introduced to the three other main characters, a young pregnant woman named Amina, dressed in indigo robes with tribal scars on her face. She is the least developed character. All we know is that she is walking across the Sahel to escape her desert tribe. Winston is a young educated man, the author of the e-mails to Laura’s father under different names, who is trapped in the world of 419 e-mail scams. The most likeable is Nnamdi, a young man from a fishing village in the Niger Delta where a big Western oil company has ruined the river, the environment and the livelihood of the people. In an attempt to get out of poverty, he is caught in a web of violence and deceit in the Nigerian mafia. When the stories of these three people collide, the conclusion is tragic and sad.

The descriptions of Africa - its people, its tribal customs, its varieties of tribal languages, the street sellers selling everything from spark plugs to Bibles, a scene of a tailor balancing a hand-cranked Singer sewing machine on his head, the smells, the heat, the dust, the garbage heaps - seem so authentic. The reader feels the heat and smells the smells.

I learned a lot about Africa and about Nigeria in particular; oil, kidnapping and 419 fraud are Nigeria’s three biggest growth industries, apparently. Not a pleasant commentary.

This is an exciting, elegantly-written novel that explores greed, family ties, the desire to help someone in need and why it’s important to click the “delete” button on any “too good to be true” offers.

Note: This book is rated P = profanity. 

Reviewed by Sandra 

Disclosure: I borrowed this book from the library and was not told how to rate or review this product.

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