Moral of the story: never ever click on those spam emails telling you have won stuff, or those wanting help for ill relatives. And what ever you do never ever reply to one, even if it is to say sorry, wrong person. Just don't.
Because that is what this novel is about. An elderly man is found dead and his daughter, Laura, takes it upon herself to find out why he died, as this would appear to not be your normal suicide. Her research takes her to Lagos, Nigeria, where so many of these emails originate from.
So who or what is 419? The number 419 refers to the article in the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud. In this case scams of the advance fee nature. Such scams have been around for centuries, but became much more common place in the 1980s, and with the arrival of the internet, became open slather as it became increasingly diifficult to track down the origin of the emails sent out. Nigeria is not the only country, by the way, guilty of this type of fraud, but it seems that the emails from Nigeria have a common thread of unbelievable wealth just a few clicks of the mouse away if only you do as asked. It comes back to "If it sounds too good to be true, then it probabaly is". So why do people get sucked into these frauds, losing thousands and thousands in the process? That is what this novel is about. And by crikey it is alarming and good - a real thriller.
While Laura is chasing down those responsible for her father's problems, in Nigeria itself, there are problems of a different kind, Nigeria having been blessed with enormous reserves of mineral wealth, especially oil. Reading this book you could be forgiven for thinking Nigeria is a mess, and in so many ways it is. It has been plundered by the British for over 200 years beginning with slaves, and latterly for its oil and other natural resources. Multinationals like Shell have contributed too to the destruction of the social and traditional fabric of this very diverse population with its various tribes and religious mixes. It is hardly surprising that there are continuously running civil wars, pirates, and a flourishing and very dangerous black market, as well as internet scams. The author focuses his attention on a young man from the coastal area in the south of the country which is slowing being destroyed by the demand for oil, and a young girl from the dry north who is running away from all that she knows. It is inevitable that the worlds of Laura, Nnamdi and Amina will collide, and the author is a master at building the tension, weaving the tale, taking the long route to the climax of the story.
Always looming in the background to the lives of these three is the self styled Chief Ogun Oduduwa of the Obasanjo, essentially a mobster of the highest order who rules through fear. He has his finger in a number of pies including oil running and 419 frauds - a lot to protect.
This is a great read, and at times I found it hard to believe it was fiction. It could be real - we all receive these ridiculous emails - at the click of a mouse, we too could be sucked into this vortex of no return. Laura's father tried to get out, but he couldn't. A google search of '419' will take you to a whole lot pages featuring scam baiters, those who try to scam the scammers. It is a world that you don't really want to be entering, but novels such as this highlight how vigilant we need to be in our own home computer use.