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Nairobi Heat (Melville International Crime) Paperback – September 13, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


"Nairobi Heat takes us to Kenya with a refreshing authority... Besides the usual fun and thrill of crime novels, what makes the book a delicious read is that it’s also packed with engaged and relevant social commentary."
—The New York Times

"If you're weary of the glut of Scandinavian crime fiction, take a trip to Kenya's teeming capital city. " —The New York Post

"A fast-paced hard-boiled crime novel... We suggest you pick up a copy if you know what's good for you." —Flavorwire

"Just as the works of James Ellroy and Carl Hiaasen dig beneath the glitter of Hollywood and South Beach, respectively, to reveal a nasty, fetid underside, [Nairobi Heat] rips away images of the Sahara and safaris and goes beyond nightly news pictures of deprivation."—The Fort Worth Star-Telegram

"Ishmael Fofona, Ngugi's detective, may not as yet have taken over from Kurt Wallander in our affections, but I'm hoping it's only a matter of time."—The Telegraph (UK)

" action-packed cross-cultural ride, crackling with detail garnered from the author's experience reporting on the African communities in which this story is set." —Barnes & Noble Review

"An engaging insider's view of the cultural divide between Americans and Africans." —Publishers Weekly

“Ngugi’s ability to weave a complex narrative, which connects crime and racial tensions in the US to an in-depth knowledge of Kenya and its nuances, to Rwanda and its genocide past within this African crime thriller, is nothing but the work of a genius craftsman and wordsmith.”New African Magazine

Nairobi Heat’s biggest triumph is the way it forces us to re-examine accepted narratives and received truths.”The Mail & Guardian (South Africa)

"[A] welcome discovery."

About the Author

MUKOMA WA NGUGI is a novelist and poet, whose books include the novel Nairobi Heat and the poetry collection Hurling Words at Consciousness. He was short listed for the Caine Prize for African writing in 2009 and for the 2010 Penguin Prize for African Writing. 

His columns have appeared in the GuardianInternational Herald Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times, and he has been a guest on Democracy Now, Al Jazeera, and the BBC World Service. His stories and poetry have been published in the Kenyon ReviewKwani!Chimurenga and Tin House Magazine, among other places.

Mukoma was born in 1971 in Evanston, Illinois and grew up in Kenya before returning to the United States for his undergraduate and graduate education. He is currently a professor of English at Cornell University.

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Product Details

  • Series: Melville International Crime
  • Paperback: 204 pages
  • Publisher: Melville International Crime; First Printing edition (September 13, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1935554646
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935554646
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #646,323 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Novelist, poet, and essayist Mukoma Wa Ngugi is the author of Nairobi Heat (Melville, 2011), an anthology of poetry titled Hurling Words at Consciousness (AWP, 2006) and is an Assistant Professor of English at Cornell University. He was short listed for the Caine Prize for African writing in 2009. He has also been shortlisted for the 2010 Penguin Prize for African Writing for his novel manuscript, The First and Second Books of Transition. Nairobi Black Star (Melville) is forthcoming in the summer of 2013.

A former co-editor of Pambazuka News, his columns have appeared in the Guardian, International Herald Tribune, Chimurenga, Los Angeles Times, South African Labour Bulletin, and Business Daily Africa, and he has been a guest on Democracy Now, Al Jazeera and the BBC World Service. His essays have appeared in the World Literature Review, the Black Commentator, Progressive Magazine and Radical History Review. His short stories have been published in Wasafiri, Kenyon Review and St. Petersburg Review and poems in the New York Quarterly, Brick Magazine, Kwani?, Chimurenga and Tin House Magazine amongst other places.

Mukoma was born in 1971 in Evanston, Illinois and grew up in Kenya before returning to the United States for his undergraduate and graduate education. He is currently based in Norwalk, CT. He is the son of World renowned African writer, Ngugi wa Thiong'o.

He can be reached at: mukomangugi[@] For book or film rights contact: Watkins/Loomis Agency, P.O. Box 20925, New York, NY 10025 Tel: 212.532.0080 Fax: 646.383.2449 Email:

For more information about mukoma, please visit his website at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia on September 13, 2011
Format: Paperback
I just love to travel around the world in my living room. Ngugi takes us from Madison Wisconsin to Africa and back again. Along the way he walks us through social problems in both places. He does great job of providing a mini history and political culture lesson of the Rwandan genocide and its impact. Racism and violence are highlighted but so is the energy of the African people and how deeply they care for one another despite the corruption. When Ishmael, who is a black American detective arrives in Kenya he's repeatedly called `mzungu', which means white in Kishwahili, because he's not a native African. He meets David Odhiambo his African counterpart and it takes Ishmael all of 10 minutes to step in a whole lot of doo doo when he comes upon a crime in progress he tries to stop. And that's before even gets a chance to investigate the crime he's there to solve.

Back in Madison he's called to a homicide scene and finds a beautiful young blonde woman murdered on the steps of an African college professor's house. Of course the professor, Joshua Hakizimana, is the first suspect. Since they don't have enough evidence to hold him the local cops have to let Hakizimana go. He flees back to Africa where he's a hero. He's known for running a school where Rwandan's who escaped the genocide found aid. One by one he leads them to safety but something doesn't add up either in Africa or in America. There's a foundation with lots of unaccounted for money and a plethora of board members who want Ishmael dead or at least to stop investigating and go home so they can carry on with their money making schemes. Ishmael and Odhiambo make a great combination as does the relationship between the US and Africa. Ngugi's is a great new voice and I'm looking forward to more from him.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Lakis Fourouklas on September 13, 2011
Format: Paperback
This is the first crime novel by an African writer that I've ever read and I can honestly say that I liked it. Perhaps that's due to the fact that I cannot really label it, say that is that it belongs to one genre or another. The non-stop action, the blood splattered scenes and the twists and turns, somehow remind me of an American thriller; its social background though is so solid and realistic, that maybe I would do it a disservice by saying that this is just a thriller and nothing more.
It all begins when a naked young woman is found dead outside the house of an African human rights activist, in Madison, Wisconsin. Detective Ishmael, an African American who rushes to the scene of the crime, feels from the very first moment that there's more to this murder than what at first meets the eye; namely, layer upon layer of secrets and lies. The man who discovered the body is quite famous for his humanitarian efforts during the genocide in Rwanda and is said to have saved hundreds of people, thus the logic dictates that someone is trying to frame him for the murder. In this particular area most of the people are white and the Ku Klux Klan has a very strong presence, so as expected the heat is on for the detective right from the start. However, nobody seems to know who the dead woman is, and since the police cannot identify the victim, there's no way to look for a motive. So before too long Ishmael's investigation reaches a dead end, due to the lack of clues. The media and the higher ups in the political food chain though will not give the matter a rest that easily, so the pressure on the chief of police, who also happens to be an African American, keeps mounting. When everything seems lost though, they will by chance find a lead.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Rabid Reader on June 26, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this because I'd read a good review of it and because from time to time I like to read mysteries.
I had not seen one (other than the quirky #1 Ladies' Detective Agency) set anywhere in Africa, so I thought it would be interesting. It was.

The best thing about this book is the voice of its narrator--a sort of old-fashioned detective-movie voice, a little jaded by experience, but with a heart of gold and a touch of sweetness hidden deep inside. We see not only Africa, but also the US through his eyes.

The second best thing about the book is the way the story (solving the murder) is so intertwined with the culture the detective encounters in Africa. One cannot be teased apart from the other. This is a murder that could not have happened, would not have happened in any other way, in any other place.

The culture shock is acute--and important, as our protagonist, a black American detective, searches not only for a killer, but also for his own social equilibrium in a world where he's suddenly a part of the majority--but also a foreigner.

I have to say I really, really enjoyed this book--and I would recommend it to anybody who likes not only a good page-turning mystery, but also a journey outside his N. American comfort zone.

I'd also like to see more from this author. . . .
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By TChris TOP 500 REVIEWER on September 24, 2011
Format: Paperback
A black police detective named Ishmael is surprised when a Nairobi taxi driver calls him a white man, but he's as out-of-place in Africa as any other American. Ishmael is chasing clues in the murder of a blonde woman in Madison, Wisconsin's prosperous Maple Bluff neighborhood, where a Kenyan named Joshua Hakizimana claims to have found her dead on his front porch, the apparent victim of a heroin overdose. Hakizimana has achieved some fame as an advocate for Rwandan refugees and doesn't seem the murderous type. On the strength of an anonymous telephone call urging him to come to Nairobi because "the truth is in the past," the police chief rather improbably gives Ishmael permission to pursue the investigation in Kenya. In Nairobi, Ishmael joins a detective named O. As Ishmael and O pursue leads, they become targets of assassination and do a fair amount of their own killing while edging closer to a criminal conspiracy involving corruption and genocide that overshadows the lone death in Madison.

While Nairobi Heat succeeds as a detective story (and quite a good one, once the surprising connection between Hakizimana and the dead woman on his porch is revealed), it is also the story of Ishmael's journey toward an understanding of his racial identity. In addition to finding clues in Kenya, Ishmael finds something else -- not his roots, exactly, but a kind of serenity. The novel explores an interesting racial dynamic: some blacks, including his ex-wife, view Ishmael as a race traitor because he occasionally arrests black suspects, while some whites, seeing his black face in the police department, wonder why he's not in handcuffs. In Kenya, O discusses at some length the relationship between color and justice.
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