Well, to my delight, I found myself in the mood for reviewing novels again a couple of days before I prepared this review a few months ago 🙂 Although I’m not sure how many I’ll review this time round [Edit: I’ll review four novels, including this one], I thought that I’d start with Tade Thompson’s 2015 hardboiled detective thriller novel “Making Wolf”.
This novel was a birthday present from a family member and it was something that I was eager to read after enjoying Thompson’s “Rosewater” sci-fi trilogy a few months ago (You can find my reviews of these books here, here and here). Seriously, it has been way too long since I last read a novel.
Anyway, let’s take a look at “Making Wolf”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.
“Making Wolf” begins with a man called Weston Kogi taking a plane from London to a fictional West African country called Alcacia for his aunt’s funeral. His aunt helped him to flee the country during a civil war fifteen years earlier and he is wary about returning, even for just a couple of days.
At the funeral, Weston runs into his old girlfriend Nana, who – to his surprise – is still very much in love with him. He also meets a man called Church who bullied him when they were at school. When Church asks Weston about his life, Weston tells him that he is a homicide detective for the Metropolitan Police. There is a reception after the funeral, and Weston ends up drinking with Church and his friends for a while before suddenly passing out.
When Weston wakes up, he finds himself in a hut on the outskirts of a remote camp. After exploring the area and witnessing a grisly execution, several local rebels point their guns at him. Church shows up and tells Weston that he works for the Liberation Front Of Alcacia (LFA) and that they need his police experience to “impartially” investigate the murder of a respected local politician called Papa Busi, with the hope of pinning the crime on a rival group called the People’s Christian Army (PCA).
Given $10,000 in expenses and quickly realising that he doesn’t really have much of a choice and can’t leave the country, Weston reluctantly agrees to investigate. Soon, the PCA gets in touch with him too and offers him $15,000 in expenses, especially if he pins the crime on the LFA. Of course, there is one small problem with all of this – Weston was just trying to impress Church when he said he was a homicide detective. In reality, he is a security guard for a supermarket…
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a brilliantly compelling and atmospheric hardboiled detective thriller novel that also has a wonderfully cynical sense of humour too. If you are a fan of Thompson’s “Rosewater” novels, then you will probably enjoy this one too. Yes, it doesn’t contain any sci-fi elements – but it still contains the kind of detailed worldbuilding, compelling narration and complex thriller plot that you’d expect 🙂
In terms of the novel’s detective elements, this is a hardboiled detective novel. Not only is there a complex web of crime and villainy in the background (although, unlike some classic hardboiled novels, this one has a slightly more streamlined plot), but Weston is very much a reluctant detective in a dangerous situation who has to rely on his wits in order to solve the case.
Most of his investigation consists of interviews, research, bribery, threats, logical deductions and the occasional bit of snooping. In classic hardboiled fashion, Weston is very much a cynic – who also ends up becoming at least somewhat morally-ambiguous as the story progresses. The investigation is also kept compelling thanks to the fact that Weston can never quite be sure about who he can trust too. Plus, as you’d expect from a more modern hardboiled novel, there are many violent and/or grim moments that are presented in a “messy” and “ugly” – rather than “thrilling” or “cool-looking”- kind of way.
This brings me on to the novel’s thriller elements, which are expertly blended with the detective plot and help to add a lot of extra speed and suspense to the novel. Although there are a couple of fast-paced fight scenes, this novel is much more of a traditional suspense thriller – with Weston “out of his depth” and stuck in a dangerous catch-22 situation, a character mysteriously vanishing (in a way that the reader notices before Weston does), a couple of plot twists, several scenes where Weston is threatened and a rapid increase in political tensions within Alcacia. Needless to say, all of this suspense really helps to keep the plot moving at a decent pace.
One other cool element of this novel are the comedy elements. Although the later parts of the story are more on the serious side of things, this novel contains lots of hilariously cynical comedy. For starters, the novel’s premise seems like the perfect set-up for a farce and at least a few parts of the novel are evocative of this style of comedy, albeit often in a more gritty and/or violent way than you might expect from a typical farce.
For example, one grim running joke is that Weston is given a gun by Church for protection – but, every time he tries to use it, something always goes wrong. He misses, the gun jams, or – in one vaguely “Pulp Fiction” style moment – he accidentally shoots both himself and someone else at the same time. If you have even a slightly grim, cynical and/or twisted sense of humour, then you’ll enjoy this novel 🙂
In addition to all of this, there are just so many brilliantly cynical asides, details, comments, dialogue segments and other subtle comedic moments too. If you enjoyed the occasional humourous moments in Thompson’s “Rosewater” novels, or enjoy “edgy” hardboiled comedy novels like Warren Ellis’ “Crooked Little Vein”, then you’ll enjoy the humour here. This humour not only helps to balance out a lot of the novel’s many horrific and grim moments, but is also often cynical enough to add to the story’s slightly dystopian atmosphere at the same time too. Whilst this isn’t an outright comedy novel, there are a surprisingly large number of comedic moments here and they really help to add a lot of personality and uniqueness to the story.
The novel’s setting is really atmospheric and detailed too, which helps to add intrigue, personality and a feeling of realism to the novel. This setting also allows Thompson to explore a number of different themes, such as emigration, colonialism, racism, corruption, extremism and post-colonial mistrust of western governments too.
In terms of the characters, they are really good. The bulk of the novel’s characterisation focuses on Weston – who, whilst being a typical cynical hardboiled detective, also experiences a lot of character development throughout the novel. He goes from being an inexperienced “out of his depth” character to being a much more knowledgeable, cynical and morally-ambiguous character as the story progresses. This progression is handled really well and comes across as very realistic. In addition to this, another element of his character development is how he goes from absolutely hating Alcacia when he arrives to eventually preferring it to London (and his name, which sounds similar to “Western”, is probably part of this theme too).
The novel’s supporting characters are often interesting, frightening and/or quirky in one way or another, with Weston’s uneasy friendship with Church being one of the more dramatic parts of the novel. Although the supporting characters don’t get quite as much characterisation as Weston does, they are well-written enough to feel like interesting people with realistic motivations and backstories. Likewise, the slight quirkiness of many characters is also used as a brilliant source of subtle comedy and/or horror throughout the novel too.
As for the writing, it is really good 🙂 As you would expect from a hardboiled novel, this novel’s first-person narration is mostly written in a fairly “matter of fact” way that keeps the story moving at a reasonable pace, whilst also giving everything a bit of personality and a more cynical and “realistic” atmosphere too. This is also paired with Thompson’s distinctive writing style and imagination, which will be familiar to fans of his “Rosewater” novels, and it is an absolute joy to read 🙂 Seriously, I loved the narration here 🙂
In terms of length and pacing, this novel is excellent 🙂 At an efficient 259 pages in length, not a single page is wasted and this is the kind of novel that can be easily enjoyed in just a couple of days 🙂 Likewise, the novel’s pacing is absolutely stellar too. Not only is there a good contrast between the faster-paced suspense thriller elements and the slightly slower detective elements, but they both balance each other out to tell a story that moves quickly enough to remain compelling, but slowly enough to give you time to think about everything and appreciate the atmosphere. Yes, the beginning and ending are slightly faster than the middle – and the chapter length varies a bit – but this is still a really gripping and well-paced novel.
All in all, if you want a compelling and unique hardboiled detective thriller novel, then you will probably enjoy this one. Not only does it have a gripping main plot, but it also contains a really good mixture of hilariously cynical comedy and more serious moments too. Likewise, although it doesn’t contain any sci-fi elements, it is still well worth reading if you enjoyed Thompson’s “Rosewater” novels too. Plus, fans of Warren Ellis’ detective novels might also enjoy this one too.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.