A Conspiracy of Ravens is the second novel by Othuke Ominiabohs (author of Odufa), a political thriller. As suggested by the title, the novel follows the players and the pawns in a high-echelon conspiracy connected with every historical threat to the Nigerian State, from the Civil War to Boko Haram insurgency and Niger-Delta militancy.
A bunch of militants led by the charismatic Tari Kemeasuode kidnap nine expatriates from an oil rig in the Niger Delta, and what follows is a rat-race against time to meet the militants’ demands and rescue the hostages. Enters DSS Agent, Alex Randa, who is summoned by President Sylva to procure the release of the hostages. Between Alex Randa’s investigation and the discoveries made by BBC journalist, Brooke Cochlain, one of the hostages who is released by the militants to convey their demands to the Nigerian government, a disturbing jigsaw starts to come together, far-reaching in its consequences, not only for the hostages, but for the entire country. Anarchy is good business, and a cabal led by an enigmatic, masked figure known as “The Fixer” would stop at nothing to see the country up in smoke.
With the stakes stacked higher than either of them anticipate, Alex Randa and Brooke Cochlain have to use every resource at their disposal to uncover an unsavoury plot threatening Nigeria’s existence and a version of events invalidating the country’s perception of its own history.
With his second novel, Othuke Ominiabohs dishes a compelling thriller, which takes on several political issues without being bogged down by them. This is a marker of laudable restraint on the part of the author, resulting in a novel that is at once entertaining and intense. There was a depth to the characters that is rare in the thriller genre, particularly with the anti-hero Tari Kemeasuode who exemplifies, interestingly, the complexities of the human spirit. With crisp writing, an eye for detail, and a good ear for dialogue, Ominiabohs weaves a story that is engaging and made more plausible by the fact it could as well have come off the front-pages of Nigerian newspapers.
Ironically, some of the novel’s strengths are also its Achilles’ heel. Overdetailing and excessive description gets in the way of seamless reading; in places, grinding to a halt what should, otherwise, be a fast-paced, edge-of-the-seat read. There seems to be too many moving parts in the plot and one character too many, to the effect that the reader may have a belated connection with the characters and the story.
Up until the middle of the book, it’s hard to tell who the major characters are, and this leaves the reader with a sense of the story not being centred, adrift. Alex Randa, who, going by the novel’s blurb, is the main protagonist, appears to have a cameo role till the concluding parts of the novel. And there’s the character, Colin Enders, whose (utility and) presence in the novel, while hard to justify, also raises the unanswered question of how a housewife leading a charmed life has a mercenary on speed-dial.
The novel tends towards the cinematic, laden, it seems, with every action movie cliché, and rarely to flattering effect. The novel also proves that, like oil and water in the Niger Delta, fiction and coincidences don’t mix.
Addressing the Niger-Delta situation in the novel, Ominiabohs takes a rounded approach, offering multiple perspectives on the state of the Niger Delta through the ensemble of characters. This is where Ominiabohs’ expertise as a writer is most marked: guiding the reader through his themes without leading in judgment. Judgment is something that, if readers come to at all, they would have come to on their own.
A Conspiracy of Ravens is an accomplished thriller and Othuke Ominiabohs asserts himself an author to reckon with in a genre underrepresented this side of the Atlantic. Ominiabohs has blossomed since his debut novel, Odufa, and A Conspiracy of Ravens affirms he is here to stay.