Review: Bait by Nick Brownlee

This is the second book of the African leg of this year’s global challenge. Set in Kenya, it’s written by a British journalist and I was prompted to listen to it after hearing a rave about Ben Onwukwe, the narrator of the audio version

Bait is a story of violence. It opens with a young boy gutting a white man on the bow of a fishing boat off the coast of Kenya. The boat is then blown up with the body of the white man and the live young boy on board. Subsequently there are more violent deaths (several shootings, a harpooning, an attempted murder by crocodile and probably a couple more I’ve forgotten), several near-deaths and other violent outbursts. Amongst all of that is the story of Jake Moore, an ex-cop from Britain, and his partner Harry who run an ailing business offering big game fishing trips to rich tourists. They get caught up in the violence via several threads, not least of which is Jake’s encounter with Mombassa’s only honest cop, Detective Inspector Daniel Jouma. Initially investigating a disappearance Jouma (with help from Jake) eventually ends up on the trail of the nastiest kind of crime you can imagine.

The setting is the most distinctive thing about the book for me. Brownlee has depicted Kenya following the post-election riots of 2007; tourism has significantly reduced and crime and corruption has flourished. The wealth and luxury enjoyed by the owner and visitors to the Marlin Bay Hotel where much of the action in the novel is set is juxtaposed well with the extreme poverty endured by those outside the five-star compound.

Ultimately though this felt like a film script more than a book to me. It’s full of action and imagery (most of it bloody) but not a great deal of substance and the characters were a bit too stereotypical and shallow to really engage me (the rich man is evil, the South African is a racist etc). To be fair I think perhaps if I was an occasional reader of the genre I would have liked it more, but as it stands the book fell into my ‘meh’ category which I broadly describe as a ‘book that’s OK to read but barely distinguishable from a hundred similar tomes and will be quickly forgotten’.

Given that I really did enjoy the narration from Ben Onwukwe the book probably would have scored 3 stars despite its flaws but for the very end. There’s a wrap-up where one of the characters explains the message of the book, in essence explaining in words of one syllable why it’s called Bait, that I found particularly patronising. When you add that to the colossal amount of violence and other elements I’ve described it’s just not a book I would recommend ahead of other African crime fiction such as Deon Meyer’s excellent South African books.

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Bait has been reviewed at Mysteries in Paradise (where Kerrie enjoyed it more than I did) and The Game is Afoot (where I think Jose Ignacio had similar feelings to me though he is more polite).

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 2.5/5
Author website http://www.nickbrownlee.com/
Narrator Ben Onwukwe
Publisher Whole Story Audio Books [2009]
ISBN N/A (downloaded from audible.com)
Length 8 hours 6 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #1 in the Jouma and Jake series
Source I bought it

6 thoughts on “Review: Bait by Nick Brownlee

  1. Bernadette – Thanks for this review. I know exactly what you mean by Bait feeling more like a screenplay than a book. I think I’ll let this one pass, mostly because of the excessive violence but also because I honestly didn’t see anything driving me to it. I like the idea of the Kenya setting, though…

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