Welcome. Please have a look and find out more about my work. The fiction is primarily based on my own experiences whilst living and working in West Africa during the 1960s; whereas the memoir is a factual account of my adventures inside secessionist Biafra. I will be posting news, extracts from each book and reviews to provide a flavour of the stories. If you like what you’ve read and wish to order any of them, they are available from a wide range of online bookshops in both paperback and e-book format – have a look at the “Ordering” section for more information.
Almost forty-six years ago, in July 1967, a small Italian Freighter eased itself away from the quay at Port Harcourt in Eastern Nigeria or Biafra as it had become by then. On board were 800 or so expatriates that were being evacuated from Biafra to the comparative safety of Lagos in Federal Nigeria. The ship, the MV Isonzo, was the only way out of the rebel enclave as Federal Nigerian troops closed in on the township for the final assault. There were many nationalities on board including British, American, Dutch, Israeli, Japanese and Italian, all of whom had previously worked in Enugu, the regional capital or Port Harcourt the region’s major sea port. An account of my adventures in Biafra is detailed in my memoir entitled The Up-Country Man, which is featured on this page. It’s the story of a young British engineer, (me) straight out from England, who was posted to Enugu just as the Nigerian civil war began and it relates some of the problems and difficulties encountered by a white man living in an enclave of determined indigenous people. Roadblocks, marauding Biafran soldiers, food shortages and the secret police caused many problems for the small contingent of Europeans remaining in Enugu, not to mention the final evacuation itself.
Since the evacuation, I have only ever been able to correspond with one man who was aboard the Isonzo and I would like to make contact with more people if possible. Were you on that small Italian freighter? Do you know anyone who was on that ship? If so, perhaps you would be kind enough to make contact.
The author has a real problem at the beginning of this book and that is getting the reader to appreciate the complicated historical, social and political background that is vital to the story he is about to tell. However, once this phase of the novel is over, the story grips the reader and Ryeland’s real skills come to the fore.
The strengths of the book come from the author’s effortless command of the complex series of plots and sub-plots underpinning and driving the story. It is admirable how Ryeland balances so many balls in the air at the same time, keeping the reader keen to find out how the trick will work out in the end as the juggler finishes his final act with a flourish.
At the same time as the author is entertaining us with a multi-faceted thriller, we are being shown insights into the world of post-colonial Africa. If some of the scenes of utter corruption seem far-fetched to readers who have never experienced it, I can assure them that from my own experience of living in West Africa at the time, the picture Ryeland draws up of betrayal, sleaze, bribery and the general cheapness of human life is an accurate portrait of the times and is probably still reliable today, if news reports from the area are anything to go by. Ryeland’s Nibana may be imaginary, but the Nigeria on which it is based (and whose history it shadows so closely) really was the fraud-ridden, chaotic, divided nation of this book.
The book can be depressing at times, since with the exception of the three main heroes, everyone else in the novel is on the make or else pursuing their own political ambitions. Honest, decent men in Africa of the calibre of Bello do appear to be sadly thin on the ground. However, this trio of good men certainly arouse our approval and by this means the author ensures that the reader cares what happens to them as well as focusing our sympathies on their plight as the novel develops.
I would guess that some people might find some of the minor characters in the book to be rather two-dimensional. However, I would come to the author’s defence by noting that the kind of pompous and insensitive “cartoon” attitudes shown by the High Commissioner (for example) are in fact accurate portrayals of the public personas that those characters exhibited to the world at the time. The bar at the Ikoyi Club, in Lagos, where expatriates met to socialise, was full of such apparent “caricatures” when I frequented it as a child.
Having said all that, “The Mine” is a real page-turner. The reader will surely be anxious to find out how the various plot strands come together and who will survive the violent times in which the characters find themselves: times in which power seeking military bullies and corrupt officials covering their asses are only too willing to utilize people and then cast them aside.
Like Ryeland’s other books set in West Africa, “The Mine” is also a valuable document that records (from a largely European perspective) the reality of Africa at a vital time in its development. Historical records of the time might give readers a dry account of the facts and figures of the conflict that resulted from the first serious attempt to redraw the map of post-colonial Africa, but Ryeland’s novel gives us an insight into what it was actually like to be there among all the turmoil and chaos.
**** (4 stars)
Readers will have gathered that I spent some time in West Africa, particularly Nigeria, during the sixties, where I worked as a service manager for a British company dealing in Land-Rovers, Leyland trucks and buses and Massey Ferguson agricultural products. My position gave me access to all sorts of people and not least the senior officers of the police, who used Land-Rovers extensively throughout the region.
The Last Bature is a policeman’s tale, but let me first explain the word “Bature” (pronounced Batuuree). It is a Hausa word and Hausa is the Lingua Franca of the northern sector of many of the countries along the West African coast and is therefore spoken widely in Northern Nigeria. It means white man, European or senior government officer. All three terms being mutually interchangeable and thus any Caucasian male official was addressed and referred to as “Bature”. I was known as Moto Bature (Moto meaning of course Motor) and my bank manager friend was called Kudi Bature (Kudi meaning Money).
Therefore, the title of the book indicates that the holder was the last white policeman in the territory.
The main protagonist in my book is Senior District Police Officer, Mike Stevens who tries to avert a major catastrophe while the country, Nibana, a fictitious ex-British colony, lurches into yet another coup, which eventually leads to civil war. The character of Mike Stevens is based on a police officer that I actually knew well, and our hero in the book exhibits exactly the same attributes as the real officer. He is honest, treats everyone equally and trucks no nonsense from anyone, African or European. Indeed the first chapter of the book details a scene at the Club (A virtual oasis for Europeans in a country with a climate and culture so very different from our own) which I actually witnessed and clearly illustrates the integrity of the senior police officer I was pleased to call my friend. Like my character in the book, he was the last bature in the force and when he finally retired, it was a very sad day for the territory and for the police force too. When he left the country to return to England, the small airport building was packed with expatriates of all nationalities, together with many senior African police officers, to see him off in the traditional manner. Though he has now sadly passed away, I will never forgot my old police pal and so I used him as my hero in The Last Bature as a sign of respect and gratitude for him having been such a loyal friend.
It is now forty-five years since the Biafran war began and to mark this tragic occurrence I have updated my memoir, The Up-Country Man: A personal account of the first one hundred days inside secessionist Biafra, to include more information. The Kindle and Smashwords e-versions have been updated too and the new print version is available from Lulu (with a special 10% launch discount), and at Amazon.
My new political thriller, entitled The Mine, (110,000 words) is now available in Kindle and paperback formats from Amazon UK, Amazon US and in all e-book formats from Smashwords. It’s also available as a paperback from Lulu .
Like all my other books it’s set in West Africa during the turbulent sixties and could be described as the sequel to The Last Bature, though it’s not necessary to have read the previous book to appreciate the new one. I do hope you find the new book to be just as absorbing and exciting as all the others. Here’s the back cover blurb to give you an idea of the story.
The Mine is a political thriller set in Nibana, an imaginary West African state, some years after gaining independence from the British in 1962. With the Eastern Region about to secede and Nibana heading for civil war, the head of state invites an archaeology professor and his team to investigate some ruins in the Northern Region. The professor’s astonishing finds initiate a chain of extraordinary events that lead to abduction. A police investigation ensues, but becomes complicated when an Eastern Bloc country is commissioned to print currency for the secessionists, and an MI6 agent, working with the police, must hinder the secession by sabotaging the currency. An abandoned mine becomes the focal point when the agent, police and archaeologists are incarcerated there and discover its secret. Murder, breathtaking corruption, river pirates and rogue army officers; Ken Ryeland manipulates these ingredients in his usual consummate way to provide an exciting political thriller.
I’m giving away one of my novellas, Juju-Men, (in all e-book formats) until 16 July 2013. Simply go to Smashwords to receive your 100% discount quoting coupon number GQ58Q. Enjoy the read and please leave a comment if you have time.
I shall be issuing other coupons. Look out for them.
Juju-Men This is a single ‘taster’ story from the Tribal Gathering compendium.
A lowly houseboy persuades Ade Soyoyi and Bande Abaleko to deliver a package to the local Freemasons’ Lodge, but this minor indiscretion leads to death, destruction and chaos in the Western Region of Nibana.
Kenneth Ryeland will not be straitjacketed into a single genre or style. His first book “The Up- Country Man” is an autobiography that read like a thriller. His second “Tribal Gathering” is a series of varied short stories outlining life in postcolonial West Africa which echoed the work of authors such as Orwell, Graham Greene, Chinua Achebi or Cyprian Ekwensi…. and Ryeland can certainly stand his own in the company of the above-mentioned.
In his full-length novel “The Last Bature” Ryeland starts us off in familiar Graham Greene territory. His police Inspector, Mike Stevens, is a very believable “last white man standing” in a force that has been rapidly Africanised after independence. Like Obi Okonkwo in “No Longer Ease” or Greene’s Scobie in “The Heart of the Matter” Mike Stevens is a decent man in a world dominated by corruption. But unlike the pair just mentioned, Stevens never falls into the trap of allowing himself to be open to bribery.
As the story develops, we are drawn into the intrigue that Stevens is investigating. The heart of the story is almost prophetic as it turns on the shady involvement of Asian powers in Africa. This was indeed happening in West Africa at the time the book is set, but such presence has since become massive, indeed it has almost converted Africa into the backdrop for a covert Cold War between Asian and Western interests today.
Along the way, we meet some fascinating minor characters such as Stevens’ sidekick Bello or the slimy Major Etuk. Ryeland is good on minor characters and at his strongest in depicting events that carry the story along, as well as accompanying reflections in dialogue, or the little sketches which perfectly illustrate Stevens’ life as a policeman, or the conditions the locals have to put up with. The author is at his weakest, however, when the dialogue is merely explanatory with characters filling in plot details and political background in unlikely conversations (such as that involving the Soviet Ambassador).
There is a powerful sub-thread running through the book about plans for a coup d’etat and counter coups as tribal tensions among the army lead to powerful elements from each tribe planning to take over the government. The power crazy cynicism of such characters is perfectly evoked by Brigadier Nissi Offiong, a well-crafted super villain, who is willing to carry out annihilation of the capital city and the millions living there if it means he can take power from his brother, the current head of state.
At some point in the novel the writer starts to leave behind Graham Greene territory and opt for a more sensationalist “Hollywood” line. Ryeland handles this very well, but personally I find it hard to maintain my willing suspension of disbelief when characters are involved in incidents, which, in reality, they would surely have turned over to the relevant authorities. Ryeland does his best to justify Mike Stevens being involved at every stage of the denouement of the book, but as the story takes on the characteristics of an action movie, I found myself visualising the central protagonist as Claude Van Damme, rather than as a kind of tragic-heroic Peter Postlethwaite figure. This I felt was to the detriment of the book, but perhaps fans of Dan Brown and Hollywood action movies would disagree with me.
That said, the resulting thriller is a real page-turner that has you wanting to read just another few pages to see what happens next and the climax is generally satisfying. Though there is a final chapter postscript to the story which attempts to cram in too much information about what happened next to our protagonist and the country he had dedicated most of his life to serving.
Altogether, Ryeland has written another good book about life in post-colonial Africa, with the added attraction of a James Bond style thriller plot.
**** (4 stars)