Thursday, May 28, 2015

Review of Bound to Secrecy by Vamba Sherif (Hope Road Publishing, 2015)

Civil servant, William Mawolo, has travelled to a small, remote Liberian border town at the instigation of the country’s president to investigate the disappearance of the local chief, Tetese.  Although trying to act incognito, his real mission is soon exposed by the suspicious and secretive local townspeople.  Finding the locals either beguiling or uncooperative and deceitful, and plagued by seemingly supernatural incidents summoned by a local cult, Mawolo decides to try and assert his authority, taking charge of the local militia.  All this achieves is further antagonism and the harder Mawolo tries to discover what happened to the local chief, the more his ego grows and his grip on matters weakens, his judgement clouded by his desire for the elusive and indifferent, Makemeh, the daughter of the missing chief.

Bound to Secrecy is a relatively short novel (183 pages) set in rural Liberia, that blends together elements of crime fiction and political and social observation concerning the intersection of community and familial relations in a small town, local power and governance from a distance, and rational and supernatural beliefs.  The tale follows the exploits of William Mawolo, considered a rising star in the Ministry of the Interior, as he tries to discover what happened to a local chief who has disappeared.  His every move is either countered or tentatively supported by the local townspeople as they try to gauge who is most likely to win out, the local power players or the man sent by the national government.  All the time, Mawolo is never sure what is truth and lies and who to trust or fear and he becomes increasingly assertive, impulsive and erratic.  The tale is quite tightly told in expressive prose and it unfolds at a steady clip.  However, the reader is dropped straight into the tale and my sense was some additional historical and political context throughout would have been useful.  Moreover, the narrative is a little jerky, seemingly turning through a series of right angles as Mawolo falls out with locals or his mood swings.  The result was an interesting read, but one in which I was never quite fully hooked.

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