REVIEW: The Carnivorous City by Tony Kan

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Book Number: N/A

Read this book for: lots of different crime, morality questions, portrait of a location, Lagos (Nigeria) focus, literary fiction

Quick Review: A very different type of crime book and an immersive experience that serves to set you at the dangerous heart of Lagos.


Soni Dike, a criminal who has ‘made it’, becoming rich with an exclusive house, fantastic cars and beautiful wife suddenly disappears. His car is found in a ditch, the music still playing. Soni’s brother Abel gets the call, and he comes to Lagos from the village he and Soni grew up in to try to find his missing brother – if the city and its vices don’t destroy who he is first.

THE CARNIVOROUS CITY is a fascinating and very different crime novel from Tony Kan, who has published and won awards for many different types of writing. His mastery of language makes this novel almost stylish, and a very easy read.

This, however, is definitely not your average crime story. In fact, a lot of the time you (and Abel) forget a bit about the crime of Soni’s disappearance that forms the core incident around which the novel is built. I would call it ‘literary crime fiction’ for its strong themes and morality tale that is built on the commission of quite a few crimes, and starts to explore how a mindset becomes one of a criminal’s.

That morality side of the story actually results in a lot of very graphic sex scenes and sexual references – enough that I was surprised. If you are at all squeamish or uncomfortable about seeing those things in print, this may not be the book for you. Also, my ear is not very well attuned to the Nigerian pidgin dialect, so I did find a few of the passages and conversations almost incomprehensible. Neither of these things, however, really detracted from my enjoyment of the novel.

And the thing I most enjoyed in this novel (other than Abel’s incredibly slow and somewhat subtle transformation) was the depiction of Lagos. Kan essentially writes a love letter to the seductive power of the dark side of the money in Lagos, and the people who run it. He also delivers a fairly extensive tour of the city via scenes that occasionally seem placed mostly for that purpose. Various areas of the city are almost characters in their own right, and you get to delve a little bit into their personalities and eccentricities, which is fascinating.

This novel felt so unique, it’s definitely worth a read. This one would be particularly good if you are getting tired of some of the old crime novel standards; you’ll get a vastly different experience, but with all the gripping fascination of the standard crime novel.


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