Review of The Mine “A Real Page-Turner”

themineThe 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)

Berni Armstrong

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