G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017
Sixteen-year-old Tina doesn’t know much about saints, though she carries a prayer to St. Catherine in her pocket as she negotiates the slums of Sangui, Kenya. On the other hand, she knows a lot about theft: she’s the most accomplished thief in Sangui’s powerful Goondas gang. But Tina aspires to higher goals than successful pickpocketing and store robbery. She wants to kill Roland Greyhill, the wealthy mine owner who employed Tina’s mother as a maid after they fled from the wars of Congo. Greyhill allowed the two of them to live in a corner of his family’s luxurious property for some years, becoming the father of Tina’s sister Kiki. Then Tina’s mother was shot in Greyhill’s study – and who, in a walled estate with surveillance cameras and security guards armed with AK-47s, could have killed her but her lover and employer? Betrayed, angry, scared, Tina has fled Greyhill’s house and spent the next five years honing her skills for revenge. The boss of the Goondas has offered to help her, pointing out that her revenge would be more satisfactory if she first ruined Greyhill socially and financially by revealing the corruption behind his wealth. As the book opens, the time for vengeance has come. With the help of the Goondas and Boyboy, a teenage tech genius who has hacked Greyhill’s security system, Tina slips into Greyhill’s mansion and downloads the contents of Greyhill’s hard drive … almost.
She is caught by Greyhill’s son Michael, who instead of being in a Swiss boarding school has been suspended for fighting and sent home. The two were friends when Tina lived on the estate, but when she tells him about her vendetta with his father, he threatens to turn her in unless she joins him in finding who really murdered her mother. As her only alternative is a very unpleasant death, she agrees, sure that they will find conclusive evidence against Greyhill. Their investigation, in which they are joined by Boyboy, whose “failure” threatens him with death at the hands of the Goondas, takes them from Kenya to the Congo village from which Tina and her mother escaped. And there they unearth the terrible secrets of a mining industry whose corruption has led to abduction, rape, and theft, enabled by a military completely out of control.
Natalie Anderson has worked with NGOs and the UN on refugee relief, mainly in Africa, so she is well acquainted with the horrors that attend the mining industry in Congo and the civil war in which government troops and rebel militia are indistinguishably cruel to Congolese women and children. She has woven her knowledge into a mystery with a compellingly tough, determined, and vulnerable heroine whose life is guided by such rules as “If you’re going to be a thief, the first thing you need to know is that you don’t exist.” Or “Trust no one.” Or “Thieves don’t have friends.” Tina and her sidekick Boyboy are delights. To me, however, one of the chief interests in the book is its knowledgeable presentation of Kenyan and Congolese politics and landscape. In particular, the description of the kids’ three-day trip from Kenya through Tanzania and Rwanda to Congo in a banana lorry is unforgettable, and the few sketches of the beauty of Congo’s mountains and forests contrast admirably with the tragedy that politics and greed have brought to one of the world’s largest rain forests. The book is as fictional as the city in its title, but it has much to say about the truth behind it.
Laura Stevenson lives in Wilmington and her most recent novels, “Return in Kind” and “Liar from Vermont,” are both set on Boyd Hill Road.