West Africa is brought vividly to life in this enthralling, fast-paced noir.
Private investigator Souleymane “Solo” Camara is living in his dead father’s hometown of Bamako, Mali, burdened by, and trying to deal with, ghosts of his past. It’s June 2009, and he’s hired by a beautiful lawyer to look into a case involving her jailed sister and cocaine smuggling. It’s the start of a journey that takes the PI down some dark and dangerous back roads in White Leopard, a top-notch and enthralling mystery by French author Laurent Guillaume.
A son of both Western Africa and France, Solo has been dubbed White Leopard by the local press because of the crimes he’s solved. Tormented by demons known only to him, he’s just existing, passing time between cases with drink and women, not particularly bothered by the nonchalant government corruption he witnesses every day. Then the lawyer shows up on his doorstep: “Beautiful women do nothing but cause me trouble, and judging by her looks, this girl would be World War III.”
The author, a former police officer who served as an advisor in Mali and who has published several other books in this genre, paints an exquisite portrait of the African daily life that surrounds his protagonist. The sights, sounds, smells, and flavors of the country permeate the text. As Solo works his way through a crowd, he observes, “A woman with sagging breasts was frying banana beignets. Two giggling toddlers with big bellies were waddling around her.” Most unfamiliar native words are nicely explained: “I ordered the grilled Nile perch—a West African favorite known as capitaine.”
The pace of the story unfolds at a fairly fast clip—there’s a lot of action, some of it very violent—all interspersed by Solo’s usually sardonic first-person narrative. Memorable, fleshed-out characters included Drissa, a similar lost soul who tends to Solo’s house and garden, and Milo Stojakovic, the Serbian owner of Solo’s favorite pizza joint and his long-time drinking partner, who has his own shady past.
Solo takes us on his do-or-die quest to uncover the facts; it’s a rich glimpse into a world unfamiliar to most Westerners.
Robin Farrell Edmunds
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