419, Will Ferguson

 Internet fraud, scams from Nigeria, suicide or murder by remote control…419 touches many bases.

By Will Ferguson

“Dear Sir, I am the son of an exiled Nigerian diplomat, and I need your help …” Ever receive an email that starts similar to that? It’s fraud and indeed, it very well may originate from Nigeria for this type of electronic spam or fraud is a booming industry there. Will Ferguson uses the ubiquitous Nigerian Internet frauds as a basis for his novel.

The book weaves two stories, one somewhere in western Canada, perhaps Calgary, the other in various parts of Nigeria. In the first story, a car accident begins the tale of a family trying to determine whether their father’s car accident was really an accident or suicide. The father had been taken in by a Nigerian fraud scheme and lost all the money he and his wife had. To compound the loss, he also lost his house. His widow would be evicted soon. The second story combines stories of a number of young Nigerians: a seeming nomadic, pregnant young girl obsessed with walking to a destination on the Nigerian coast; a young boy with a precocious sense for repairing machinery; a young Internet fraudster whose strategies seem more refined and more appealing than those used by other run of the of the mill fraudsters.

Ferguson’s book struggles to hold the reader’s attention. The western Canada segment nearly captures the tension and excitement of a good cat-and-mouse crime story. The authenticity of the Nigerian protagonists immerses the reader in the culture and social milieu of Nigeria today. Whether telling the Canadian facet or the Nigerian, Ferguson sometimes writes too much, narrating the story longer than he should, thus lapsing into tedium and boredom. Perhaps in an attempt to avoid this kind of lapse, the writer often switches stories abruptly maybe hoping either to re-engage the reader or to retain the reader’s attention.  It works. But again, the cycling or switching overly long stretches is overused. 

Worthwhile read
The Nigerian portion of the book enlightens the reader about Nigeria, its poverty, its corruption and its poor living conditions. The country is too dependent on revenues from oil extraction. The national poverty and horrendous problem of unemployment mean  corruption and crime are prevalent everywhere. In fact, the corruption is so pervasive, there is a whole subset industry of crime within the underworld itself. Were it not so sad, it would be almost comical.

Ferguson’s grasp of Nigerian society and culture is excellent. The reader will break out into perspiration reading about the heat and humidity there. The claustrophobia of the dampness of the jungle will squeeze the reader as the words ooze from the page. The reader will thirst for a glass of water reading of the Saharan dryness of central Nigeria. Ferguson reinforces the reality of Nigeria with extensive use of the various tribal languages, the knowledge of which he gleaned from colleagues who lived in Nigeria and whom he credits in the acknowledgments.

Recommended reading?
Though the book is well written, particularly when it deals with the Nigerian facets. Living conditions are described with gritty authenticity. The frequent use of Nigerian expressions, Nigerian dialogue and vocabulary reinforce the credibility and reality of life there. The writing is polished, descriptive and edifying. Be all that as it may, the all too frequent lapses into overextended descriptions, the over-the-top depth of detail detracts from the development of excitement and suspense. This is disappointing for the reaction of many readers would be to support and root for the family that has been defrauded with the hope that they will regain their lost funds and bring the fraudsters to justice. However, this journey is too detoured and too convoluted.

This book is a bit of a disappointing revisit with Will Ferguson. However, I recommend it if one is curious about Nigeria and or wants some insights into Internet fraud. It has some interesting and suspenseful sections which will make it an enjoyable read.

This entry was posted in RICHARD reads reviews. Bookmark the permalink.