When I think of Canadian author Will Ferguson, it is his travel memoirs that immediately spring to mind. That and his rich sense of humour (He has won The Leacock Medal for Humour numerous times.)
419 takes us in a completely different direction....
We've all received them. In fact Barrister Salvadore Gallarto sent me one this morning. Can I help him with repatriating 8.5 million euros? It's a simple matter really. I'm sure that every reader has had one of these land in our inbox. And we promptly trash them. But what if you didn't?
Laura Curtis is heartbroken when her elderly father Henry is killed in an auto accident. But on further investigation, it appears he deliberately left the road. Why would he do such a thing? Further digging by the local Calgary police on his computer uncovers the truth - he had become embroiled in a 419 scam...."I can help...." (419 is the Nigerian criminal code for "obtaining money or goods under false pretenses.)
On the other side of the world in Nigeria, we follow the story of Winston - a 419 scammer. And Amina - a young pregnant woman walking her way across the country, escaping from something. And Nnamdi, a young man from the depths of the Niger Delta.
In the beginning, I wondered how these disparate stories would tie together, but Ferguson deftly weaves an absolutely riveting plot. The criminal underbelly of Nigeria is presented in all of it's seediness. But really, it is the story of Nnamdi that captured me the most. His story is given the most page space and he is the character I felt I 'knew' the most. The effect of the oil industry on a country and its' people is disheartening. The death of her father changes Laura as well. She becomes single minded, after years of staying safely within the confines of the small world she has created. She decides to go to Nigeria and find the man responsible for her father's death. I didn't feel I really got to know Laura and found her sudden about face to be a bit of a stretch.
419 is many things - a mystery, a thriller and a social commentary. I turned the final page with a sense of sadness. Varying degrees, but for most of the characters. Ferguson's tale of the story behind one of these schemes brings a very human face to what most see as a simple nuisance entry handled by a quick tap on the delete button.
An unusual, introspective and recommended read.