Archive for fiction

Review of The Last Bature “A James Bond Style Thriller”

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on 22/06/2011 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

LastBature

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)

Berni Armstrong

Review of Tribal Gathering “Fine Examples of the Storyteller’s Art”

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on 03/03/2011 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

“Tribal Gathering” is a collection of eight short stories set in the fictitious Republic of Nibana in the 1960s. Readers familiar with West Africa, however, should have little difficulty identifying many of the fictionalised places mentioned. The stories draw upon the author’s extensive experience of living and working in West Africa and are fine examples of the storyteller’s art. The author takes the reader into the heart of the changing West Africa of the time, creating a vivid picture of human shortcomings against a background of tribalism, corruption, rebellion and civil unrest. Recurrent themes include the clash of European and African cultures and the continuing impact of ancient religions and old ways upon everyday lives.

***** (5 stars)
Dr Peter McCree

Review of Tribal Gathering “What a Wonderful Surprise!”

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , on 20/12/2009 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

I have to confess I approached this book with some trepidation. A series of short stories about a fictional African country in the 1960s is hardly my bag, but I made the commitment to review the book and went into it with an open mind.

And what a wonderful surprise it was. I absolutely loved the book. The stories are set in the fictional country of Nibana in West Africa, but the situations and characters are very real. Each story has a clear beginning, middle and end, most of them ending with a grisly, almost Dahl-esque twist. Ryeland’s experiences of working in Africa in the Sixties certainly enriches the book with realistic touches, language and settings.

I wouldn’t recommend the book for those that are easily offended. It is hardly PC and creates the impression that many of Africa’s modern day problems are down to the end of Colonialisation and the corruption that self-government brought. Do not be mislead though, the book also highlights the attitudes of the white people who remained in Africa, making money from the indigenous people. Attitudes that occasionally led to un-rest.

My only criticism is sometimes Ryeland overuses back stories, which detracts from the story, and there are not enough women in the book, and for the most part (apart from the last story) are only on the periphery.

Minor criticisms though. This book held my interest and I would be happy to read anything else by this author.

***** (5 stars)

Karen Mason (I Heard it on the Grapevine)

Buy Tribal Gathering at Amazon.co.uk

The Last Bature: Synopsis

Posted in Synopses with tags , , , , , , , , , on 12/06/2009 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

The Last Bature is a policeman’s story set in Nibana, an imaginary West African state, shortly after gaining its independence from the British in 1962.
What begins as a straightforward investigation by the last British policeman in the Northern Region and an African police inspector, quickly turns to intrigue when the intelligence services of the superpowers vie with each other to secure a breakthrough in weapons technology. Combine this with the machinations of an irrational regional military governor hell-bent on overthrowing his brother, the head of state, and the basis for an exciting story emerges. With the cold war as a backdrop and a second coup imminent, the action moves quickly from the heat of the Omdu Hills, through the stench of the Laguna slums to the waters of the Bight of Laguna, giving the reader an insight into the grubby world of espionage and life in West Africa during the turbulent sixties.

Hot Metal

Posted in Extracts with tags , , , , , on 22/02/2009 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

Extract from Tribal Gathering

[…]After walking through thick forest undergrowth for twenty minutes or so, the two men found themselves in yet another clearing situated at the foot of a small, rocky escarpment some fifty or sixty feet high and about two hundred feet long. To one side of the sheer cliff-face was a wide, dark fissure in the rock. The boy stopped close to the gaping crack and turned to face Peter and John as they struggled to free themselves from the vines and undergrowth that clung to their feet and legs with the tenacity of leeches. Both men looked at each other as the boy spoke with the strange, grown-up voice again, asking which of them was “Mr Staffo.”
Peter, amazed at what he thought was his name being used, said, “Do you mean Stafford?”
The boy nodded.
“How did you know my name? Who the hell are you anyway?” said Peter, irritably.
The boy said nothing. He simply motioned with his right hand for Peter to follow him. John made to follow too, but the boy told him he must stay. Peter found the boy’s influence almost overpowering. Something inside him wanted to obey the boy’s every word. Turning to John, Peter said in a low voice, “You stay here, just in case. I’ll call you if I need help.”
Reluctantly, John agreed, giving Peter the thumbs-up sign as he watched his friend follow the boy towards the gap in the rock-face.
One minute the boy was directly in front of Peter, the next he’d disappeared from sight. Only when very close to the huge fissure did Peter realise he must follow the boy through into the very heart of the rock.
The huge, triangular-shaped crack was about four feet wide at the base and ten feet high at the apex, although it soon reduced to little more than three feet wide and five feet high some nine or ten yards inside the rock. It proved to be something of a tight squeeze for Peter with his large frame, but he managed to stay close behind the boy despite the heavy going and the almost total darkness.
The internal surfaces on both sides of the fissure were dripping wet and covered in what Peter imagined to be mud and slime, for he could see nothing. As he moved slowly forward, Peter felt his shirt and shorts becoming wet and sticky, especially when forcing himself through some of the narrowest places. At one point the gap became so confined, Peter began to panic thinking he would become permanently stuck inside the dark, living rock. However, gentle encouragement from the boy, a yard or so in front, soon dispelled Peter’s fear and spurred him on.
Several minutes and many yards later, Peter and the boy saw daylight ahead and this encouraged them to move more quickly. They soon emerged from the gloomy, dank interior of the cliff into a strange, crater-like clearing completely encircled by high, rocky cliffs. When Peter’s eyes became accustomed to the light, he opened them wide and his jaw dropped at the scene before him[…]

Tribal Gathering: Synopsis

Posted in Synopses with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on 08/02/2009 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

Tribal Gathering is a collection of stories set in Nibana during the 1960s, an imaginary, newly independent ex-British colony, situated on the West African coast. Against the backdrop of a nation embroiled in tribalism, nepotism and corruption, the rapidly failing infrastructure, three military coups and a bloody civil war simply add to the chaos as the main African and European characters try to live out their lives against all the odds. From the dry heat and desolation of the Northern Desert to the suffocating humidity of the oil-rich swamplands of the Enube Delta, the stories tell of the humour and tragedy of life and the frailty of human nature. Betrayal, revenge, ignorance and stupidity are intermingled with witchcraft, African Deities and Freemasonry, in a detailed and consummate way to provide interesting and compulsive reading.

HOT METAL: During a visit to the ancient town of Ifun, Peter Stafford and John Hughes encounter a mysterious African boy in the forest and the repercussions reach out to Peter Stafford’s family far away in England.

JUJU-MEN: By persuading Ade Soyoyi and Bande Abaleko to deliver a package, this minor indiscretion by an African houseboy working for the master of the local Freemason’s lodge leads to multiple deaths and chaos in the Western Region.

THE PRICE OF TIN: John Trevelyan and Umoru Ibrahim go tin prospecting in the remote Northern Desert. They desperately need to find new deposits, but all they find is an untimely demise, brought about by one of nature’s smallest of creatures.

THE VISIT: Two ungrateful, hard-to-please senior executives from the UK visit Arthur Meadows, the branch manager at Kuna, and receive an unusual punishment from the Emir of the region for their boorish and inconsiderate behaviour.

BOOM TOWN: Charlie Robinson is employed to open a new branch of the company in the oil-rich Enube Delta. Although he encounters many difficulties, the business succeeds until the region is plunged into civil war. Sabotage finally renders all he has worked for lost, but out of the destruction and chaos comes the opportunity for riches and a new life.

COMRADES: Sule Mohammed is persuaded to join the Nibanan People’s Freedom Party, an illegal organisation that, he is assured, will rid the country of the corrupt military junta and the white man. Only when it is too late does he realise that a colleague, who simply wanted his job, had duped and betrayed him.

TIEF-MAN: Encountering hard times after leaving home, young Idewu Kosae turns to crime only to meet his maker at the hands of his best friend.

SMOKESCREENS: Ade Awole attends a course of instruction at a tobacco factory in the UK and meets Jane Middleton, the young English woman assigned to conduct the course. Eventually they agree to marry and she travels to West Africa, but they both have their own agendas and not all is what it seems for either one.