Genre Fiction: Crime thriller.
Blurb “John Braimoh, an assistant superintendent of the Nigerian police, becomes involved in a seemingly noble cause corruption case—the killing of five apparently deviant youths in Abuja, a situation in which his closest friend and colleague, and four other officers are deeply embroiled. The killings attract the attention of Nigeria’s human rights and civil society organisations. John is summoned to testify before police’s investigating panel, the Force Disciplinary Committee (FDC). As the date of his testimony approaches, unknown elements issue death threats to John and his family, intent on goading him to reveal the truth to the FDC. At the FDC, Braimoh doesn’t come clean—which leads to dire consequences. As he tries to untangle himself from the resultant web, John is drawn even deeper into the murkier world of Nigerian politics and international espionage. He unwittingly finds himself in the middle of a turf war between two major international drug cartels engaged in a bloody battle to dominate the Nigerian market and route for peddling illegal narcotics to Europe and Asia.”
Dialogue Well written and believable. Occasional Yoruba language which is translated and smatterings of Nigerian Pidgin and lingo.
Themes Spirituality and God, Power and corruption, Injustice, Class system, Betrayal, Good vs Evil, Deception, Loss, Family and Facing darkness.
Editing Mostly well edited, a few errors. For such a big book, the copy editing is commendable.
Plot John Braimoh, an assistant superintendent of the Nigeria police force is asked by his colleagues, including his closest friend, Dennis Omoruyi to cover up their extrajudicial killings of five suspects. He gets threats seemingly from the families of the victims to speak the truth at a hearing but doesn’t. John’s life and those of his immediate family members are in danger. He is offered an opportunity to act as a spy in exchange for protecting his family and money. He has to navigate his way through the murky world of the underground drug cartel trade linked to the funding of terrorist group, Boko Haram in a country caught up in the aftermath of divisive elections won by a southerner from a “minority” tribe.
Our review is lengthier than usual because this is a big book (over 900 pages on Amazon Kindle) which explores many themes.
Nigerians don’t take kindly to outsiders bad mouthing their country. It is the sole privilege of the Nigerian to knock down Nigeria.
Hang No Clothes here is narrated in the first person by protagonist, John Braimoh. However, this story isn’t just about John, it’s also about Dennis. John and Dennis’ friendship is the catalyst for this book.
A writer’s prowess is in the storytelling abilities. Telling a story as you would in your native tongue sets African writers apart. Bolaji writes well. A major theme explored in this book is spirituality and God. Although John is Christian, he also holds firm in his traditional religious beliefs. He constantly talks to his “travel companion” whom Mo believes to be his spirit man. John is a contradiction and reflects a large percentage of Yoruba people who practice both religions. The effect of this narration to his “travel companion” is that it draws you, the reader in as an active participant in the story which unfolds as John seems to have a love-hate relationship with his “travel companion.”
The book is an experience of life in Nigeria from the perspective of a policeman from a poor background. Set in Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, Hang No Clothes Here takes you through the city, its history, its peoples and the socio-political landscape of Nigeria as a country. As with most Nigerian books, it highlights the ills of society; corruption, nepotism and bad governance resulting in poor infrastructure (roads, power supply etc.).
Bolaji uses flashback liberally in this book. Most times, this worked but occasionally, it did nothing to develop the plot and was a needless distraction, disrupting the flow of the narration. A good example when this worked was when John was narrating his ordeal on a journey from Lagos to Abuja to Dennis.
Bolaji’s realistic portrayal of the Nigeria Police Force reveals the extent of rot in the security agency. In another book which we reviewed earlier this year, Chasing Facades, its author, Elizabeth Adeolu got round this hurdle of writing about the police by creating a fictional detective agency working in collaboration with the police.
The characters in this book are multidimensional and real. Even when you cringe at what a character says, it is believable. John is loyal and responsible but we also see his crude ideologies and his imperfections as a man. The characters, typical of what you will find in some Nigerians, are illiberal and hypocritical in their beliefs about gender roles and homosexuality. John, for instance, finds homosexuality disgusting and sinful but is philosophical about sleeping with a prostitute even though he is married and a self-confessed born again Christian. His pastor, Tayo is committing adultery with a member of his congregation, which members of the church know of but turn a blind eye to because Tayo is an “effective intercessor with the divine.”
Bolaji explains Yoruba and Nigerian lingo deftly so that it doesn’t interrupt the narration though a glossary may have worked better. However, there were a few lapses – instances where he uses Nigerian lingo without explanation. For instance, when he says Fela yabs the Nigerian armed forces in his song, Zombie. There is a scene where Dennis says he wants to eat efo riro then explains what it is. This is unlikely to happen in a realistic dialogue between friends.
Part of what makes this book an engaging read is the attention to detail. For instance, John’s confusion when he hears the word, comeuppance is real and funny. John’s surprise when he hears Felix pronounced as Feelix by Westerners, Clive and Kerry. Clive’s mispronunciation of Egusi soup is also expected. It is good writers who pick up on these small details.
What didn’t work?
Mo There’s something about the narration that makes it difficult to follow. I think it was the constant interjection of the Yoruba words and unnecessary expositions about John’s itineraries and it got tiring at some point. Also, repetitions, an example is the number of times Jide Perry and his book were introduced. John’s run in with the foreign intelligence agencies doesn’t seem so plausible. I felt the ending needed a bit more elaboration which is ironic considering how much description the rest of the book had.
I find it strange that John kept referring to the Orisas in whole (the different messenger gods in the Yoruba mythology) similar to the Greek mythological gods. But seeing as Yoruba religion is monotheistic and only believes that there are several ways to get to God through the smaller gods (Orisas), they often pick a god or goddess whom they worship. It’s hard to find someone who is a follower of all the almost 30 something gods. I find a similarity between the protagonist, John and Perseus the Greek mythological hero who the gods had a say about his destiny.
Lady B This book needed a better balance between description and over description. Bolaji went overboard when describing backdrops, mannerisms and other Nigerian facts which may be unfamiliar to non-Nigerians. Even going as far as explaining the word “rapporteur.” This added to the bulkiness of the text and ought to have been trimmed by the substantive editor. A scene at Dennis’ party took up 75 pages of the book (yes, I counted – that’s 1/3rd of a novella!). In terms of its contribution to the overall plot, this scene was minor. The entire NNPC scene served no purpose in the book and seemed written to pander to an audience.
Sometimes, it felt as if Bolaji included scenes and dialogue to speak through his characters. For instance, the literary event scene.
There were loose ends in this book which weren’t tied up, leaving the reader with many unanswered questions. How did Santa Gertrudis (what a name!) fit in the big picture of the overall plot?
A few errors; “He was comparing the whole thing to being flashed on a mobile phone” isn’t sufficient explanation for the word, “flashing.” It’s dog-eared not dog haired. Hotel Presidential and GRA Phase II are in New GRA not Old GRA in Port-Harcourt. You don’t drive through the gates of the airport if you are exiting Port-Harcourt; in fact, from New GRA, the common route out of town is East West Road. Lastly, John tells us that he “met his mother’s absence,” rather than that his mother was not at home.
Number of pages 502.
Publisher Origami books, an imprint of Parresia publishers for physical copies. Latunes Publishers for e-copies.
Damage N1,500 on Okadabooks.
Many thanks to Bolaji who gave a copy of Hang No Clothes Here to Mo “to help us cut down costs of purchasing the books we review.” As I bought my copy, may I ask you guys to kindly plead with Mo to refund me half of what I spent? Thanks in advance!