Crime fiction – or conspiracy stories, if you like – is not a genre Nigerians write a lot; this year, I think I have just come across just one of such books (Easy Motion Tourist by Leye Adenle). So I was very excited to read A Conspiracy Of Ravens by Othuke Omniabohs. I must say first of all that this was a very refreshing work of fiction in a market crowded with immigration stories and poverty porn, and I was very happy to read this book, which tried to portray the very many issues bedeviling Nigeria and painted a picture of Nigeria as a giant chessboard with just a few actors essentially playing the game.
A Conspiracy Of Ravens tells a story of a grand scheme fueled by greed, revenge, lust and violence. It unveils a Nigeria controlled by a few people, each one with his own agenda, none of which is in the interest of the country or its citizens. Othuke depicts a Nigeria in which its citizens are busy going about their daily lives and not realizing that very little of their daily existence is directly controlled by them. He deserves praise for weaving what is essentially a very complicated and interlocked story; it was almost as if he had several stories running concurrently in the book and somehow he was able to create some harmony to these stories. I was impressed by his character development, which was something he didn’t do well in his debut novel, Odufa; several of the characters in A Conspiracy of Ravens are almost familiar, in terms of archetypes of Nigerians that we probably know. This was no easy task to accomplish, as the book had so many strong characters with distinct personalities who were all important to the story.
A Conspiracy of Ravens is Othuke’s sophomore novel and I have to say that it is a huge leap from his first. I would say that he built on the experience of writing that novel and produced this work of fiction, which was very well done for the most part. He made very good use of suspense, which I think is critical in crime fiction, leaving readers basically panting at some points. His imagery was brilliantly done; this was one of the things I criticized Odufa for, but in A Conspiracy of Ravens, he carried his readers right into the plot. He took us from Aso Villa down to the streets of Abuja and into the creeks of the Niger Delta. I could see the people, hear the sounds, perceive the smells, and this good use of imagery made the story come alive on the pages. I also want to point out that the way Othuke wrote about sex in this book thrilled me; it is graphic enough to leave you flustered but at the same time vague without specifics, and this is something many writers do not know how to do.
However I will say that there was something forceful about A Conspiracy of Ravens. It was a bit bumpy and picking up pace and falling at different parts, so it ended up not flowing seamlessly. Bland dialogues watered down some of the storytelling and Othuke missed quite a few high points of the novel, chief among them being when the Fixer realized that Tari was his long-lost grandson; I don’t think Othuke quite captured the emotions in what was one of the highest points of the story. I also think that while weaving several dimensions of the story did work, some parts of the story however suffered neglect because of this, which also affected the flow of the story.
Othuke did take quite a lot of liberty with coincidence in writing this book, but I do realize he needed it to blend in his details and make the whole story come together. A friend asked me the other day what I consider a good book and I told her that for me, a good book gives me a visceral response (my heart rate increases a few times, my pulse quickens) and a cerebral response (has me going back and forth Google to look up issues explored in the book). A Conspiracy of Ravens is a good book because I experienced both responses while reading it (more visceral than cerebral anyway), and I would say that this is a well-developed beautiful work of fiction. I do wish this book comes alive on a big screen project. I am handing this book a 6/10, but I am peeved that there will be a sequel (Urgh!), because the suspense will probably kill me before it drops.
Written by Franklyne Ikediasor
(For other book reviews by Franklyne Ikediasor, Click HERE)