Review: 'Easy Motion Tourist' by Leye Adenle
Published in 2016 by Cassava Republic Press
Crime is a genre defined by a particular set of recognisable elements that may fall either side of the creativity line: hackneyed trope or exciting subversion. Firmly in the latter category, Easy Motion Tourist is a crime novel through and through; but it is also something more. Author Leye Adenle shakes up the tried-and-true crime thriller, setting his endearing loyalty to the genre in Lagos, Nigeria. The result is a riveting read that delivers fully on excitement and story, while bringing to life a world that’s both deeply sinister and heroically optimistic. Adenle takes full advantage of our assumptions both about the crime genre and Nigeria to turn the tables in a confrontation of bias that is both exhilarating and clever.
Adenle is, by his own words, a lifelong fan of crime thrillers, stating particular devotion to James Patterson’s Alex Cross series. Because Adenle is an enthusiastic reader of the genre as well as a writer, the language of this novel gallops through the chapters with an energetic joy. Adenle, the grandson of a former Oshogobo king, is also a proudly African writer (and occasionally an actor). The title of Easy Motion Tourist, Adenle’s first novel, is taken from a Highlife song by King Sunny Ade and the sounds and sensations of Lagos illuminate the pages with heat, music, and movement.
The novel opens with a prologue, introducing us to Florentine and what she is not: not actually named Florentine, not thriving at school, not rich, and “not brought up to sell her body.” The prologue leaves Florentine in the Harem, a sort of sex club for the rich and powerful, with no idea where she is (she was blindfolded during the journey) and the vague hope of making a million Naira. Florentine does not feature again in this novel, but we eventually learn of her fate. A stomach-gnawing suspicion hangs heavily over the chapters, only lifted to reveal the gruesome reality at the very end.
Although the story alternates between the narratives of various characters, only one relates his story to us directly, in the first person. Guy Collins is a white British lawyer-turned-journalist who finds himself in Lagos to report on the upcoming election. Pining for ex-girlfriend Mel, a Nigerian woman now pursuing a successful career in the UK, Guy is eager to prove - to himself perhaps as much as Mel - that he is capable of something more than the sheltered, public-schoolboy existence he’d lived so far. And so he goes out into the Lagos night, alone, exactly as he’d been advised not to do. Things go wrong very quickly. A disturbance outside is revealed to be the horrific sight of a woman’s body - a sex worker - dumped into a ditch, violently relieved of her breasts. Before he can act on his growing sense of unease, Guy is picked up by the police and taken back to the station by Inspector Ibrahim; a cop who takes bribes but still wants to catch the bad guys. Guy grows more and more alarmed, witnessing police violence, coercion, and even murder at the station. Seemingly unable to wiggle himself out of the situation, salvation comes suddenly in the form of Amaka, a smart, sexy, mysterious lawyer. Guy is hooked, even when it becomes evident that Amaka’s rescue comes with ulterior motives.
The story is told from the point of view of a number of characters, including Guy, Inspector Ibrahim, and low-level goons such as Catch-Fire or the recognisable tall and short duo of Knockout and Go Slow. But it is Amaka who drives forward the plot in her careful, calculated quest to expose the ring of criminals responsible for the mutilated and missing sex workers. Although Guy does, in the end, get his knight-in-shining-armour fairytale moment, Amaka is clearly the hero at the heart of Easy Motion Tourist. She plays those around her like a game, manipulating police with ease, extracting information from rich men blinded by her beauty, and recruiting Guy to her cause without breaking a sweat. Her devotion to the safety and wellbeing of the vulnerable sex workers is the righteous hero’s quest and she fulfills her duty with cunning and high heels.
There’s a lot to dive into with Easy Motion Tourist. The reader ventures deep into the criminal world of Lagos, where ambition and fear go hand in hand and friend turns against friend without hesitation. The sex workers populate the pages and the streets, in varying degrees of anonymity. Their work is portrayed unromantically, as the only viable option, though one dogged with violence and death. Adenle’s own first experience with a sex worker, recounted in this essay, is echoed again and again, as we dip into the circumstances and experiences of young women who are dismissed, abused, and tossed aside by men with money and power. One sex worker, Kevwe, recalls a raid in which to avoid arrest she lost her night’s earnings paying police bribes and was forced to perform a sex act on an officer. “She had not been able to eat with the hand for two days” - it is intimate, dirty, yet banal details like this that give Easy Motion Tourist an understated ruthlessness. In a city and novel where prostitution is almost mundanely prevalent, these stark moments remind readers with an emotional blow of the humanity of these women. Meanwhile, outside of the filth and desperation on the streets, another Lagos shows itself: the extreme wealth of the residents of Victoria Island. Bribes exchange hands and the protection of image is valued above the lives the poor. Straddling these two Lagos, intertwining them in a sinister intimacy, are the police and the criminals they pursue.
Guy Collins, our somewhat naive sometimes-narrator, offers Western readers a familiar pair of eyes through which to view Adenle’s portrayal of Lagos. The outsider-as-observer is an established narrative technique, but Adenle makes it something more. Guy’s bias, his assumptions, his inability to see beyond the end of his own nose, become our bias and lay the ground for a twist that satisfies the crime thriller’s need for a reveal, and delivers an important message to the white Western reader. The corruption and violence of Lagos, (indeed of Nigeria and Africa more generally) is not isolated from the corruption and violence of the rest of the world. To the contrary, it is the blood that pumps through all our societies, keeping exploitation and inequality alive.
But this is a crime thriller, and, though we end with a cliff-hanger, ultimately resolution is provided: the bad guys get their just desserts, a romance is satisfied, and the good guys come out on top. With cocaine-fuelled shoot-outs, dangerous seductions, and devastating secrets, Easy Motion Tourist is a suspenseful, delightful, and thought-provoking read.
Written by Lesedi Vine