Penguin.com (usa)

Explore Flights of Fiction

Viking Flights of Fiction
Summer 2011
Cover image of An African Affair
$25.95 | buy the book

An African Affair

A Novel
Nina Darnton

An international thriller shot through with journalistic intrigue, political corruption, and romance that may not be what it seems.

After the assassination of a prominent Nigerian politician, New York journalist Lindsay Cameron moves to Lagos to follow a trail of corruption, drug smuggling, and murder. What begins with a coveted and exclusive interview with President Michael Olumide quickly spirals into something darker and increasingly dangerous. When two high-profile figures on opposite sides of the political spectrum—Olumide's most trusted adviser and his archrival for the presidency—are killed in suspiciously quick succession, Olumide's promise to hold free elections is cast in doubt. As Lindsay races her colleagues to penetrate the intricate network of Western officials, foreign correspondents, and CIA agents who run the Nigerian show, her entanglement with a rare art dealer leads her into terrain that's unfamiliar in every respect—from matters of the heart to matters of politics and trade that have enshrouded an entire nation in greed and corruption of deadly proportions.

Set in the mid-1990s flux of worldwide insurrections and war, Nina Darnton's debut presents an ambiance that's as lushly exotic as it is fatally unstable.

Nina Darnton lived in Africa for five years, two of them in Lagos. She has been a frequent contributor to The New York Times and NPR and a staff writer for Newsweek. She lives with her husband, the novelist John Darnton, in New York.

A phone was ringing somewhere. Its shrill, insistent screech broke through Lindsay's sleep, but she was sure it wasn't her phone—that hadn't worked in days. She sat up and threw off her sheets, which were damp with perspiration. There was that sound again. It was her phone. She scrambled to lift up the receiver.

"Lindsay," a voice shouted. "What the hell's going on? I haven't heard a word from you in over a week."

Joe Rainey, the foreign editor, sounded far away through the scratchy connection.

"The line's been out," she yelled back.

"Why the hell do you think we gave you a SAT phone?" he asked.

"It's broken. No one here can fix it. And the power keeps failing so I often can't use my computer. It's lucky I have an old manual typewriter, but I need a generator," she said. "I'm waiting for the business side to approve it. Can you put some pressure on—" but before she could say another word, the connection was severed. The landline had expired as mysteriously as it had sprung to life.

She glared at the ticking clock: 3:00 AM. There must be some unwritten law decreeing that editors would never be able to compute the time difference between them and their correspondents. She punched her pillow into a soft lump under her head and closed her eyes. But sleep wouldn't come. The air was thick and muggy. The air-conditioner didn't work and the wooden blades of the ceiling fan weren't moving.

A blackout. Again. She fumbled for a candle, lit it with the matches she kept on the bedside table and, half- asleep, groped her way downstairs to get some water.

Her friend Maureen was slumped at the kitchen table, her short brown hair plastered down with perspiration. Poor Maureen. Lindsay, a foreign correspondent for the New York Herald, had been in Lagos for four months, long enough to accustom herself to the frequent electrical disruption and the relentless heat. But Maureen, an AP reporter, had arrived only yesterday for a brief assignment.

Both had been based in London and specialized in West Africa. Half a year ago Lindsay began hearing stories about the corruption and cruelty of General Michael Olumide, Nigeria's military dictator. Exiles said he made millions from drug dealing, that he used the country as his private ATM, and that the walls of his underground jails were stained in blood. When she learned that the paper was planning to open a full-time bureau in Nigeria, she had lobbied hard for the job. Rainey had been reluctant to assign her—she suspected that he thought it too dangerous for a woman but didn't dare say so. Then, one of Olumide's advisors, widely rumored to be working for the Americans, was found murdered. Olumide claimed that there was evidence pointing to The Next Step, an anti-corruption movement that was an unlikely culprit since it believed in change by counting votes rather than cutting throats. The dissidents pointed to Olumide as the more obvious suspect. Others said it was the work of northern fundamentalists who had been agitating for Islamic law. Lindsay told her bosses that she had already developed a network of sources among dissidents. She insisted this could be a very big story, with international repercussions, a Pulitzer contender. Rainey relented. Pulitzer talk always brought editors around.

Maureen's brief was more specific—a story on the main opposition leader, Femi Fakai, who had promised an interview with the Western press. Since the AP had no resident correspondent, she had also been assigned to write some features on the Nigerian economy and oil production.

The two women had been friends since they were freshmen at The University of Wisconsin in Madison. They met on the school paper and became close. In their senior year, both wanted the job of editor, and the board, finding it impossible to choose, split the job between them. Though different in many ways, they worked well as a team. Maureen, barely five feet tall, with curly brown hair and striking blue eyes, was feisty, outspoken and honest to a fault. She could hone in on the holes in a reporter's story but needed Lindsay's diplomatic talents to communicate her criticisms. Lindsay, whose parents had changed their name from Kaminsky to Cameron, was lively, witty, flirtatious and pretty. She had a tall, graceful body, long, straight auburn hair and hazel eyes, qualities which made her popular in spite of her ambition and academic success. After college, they went into journalism and became indefatigable reporters, but at 36, Maureen had achieved a more well-rounded life. As Lindsay's mother never tired of pointing out, Maureen was married to Bob, an American diplomat she met in Warsaw. Her mother might have changed her name, but she still had Kaminsky values. Even after her divorce from Lindsay's father, she had absolute faith that marriage and babies defined success for a woman.

"Hi," Lindsay said, coming into the kitchen. "You just get up?"

Maureen shook her head. "I couldn't sleep. Any tricks for dealing with this heat?"

"Yeah," Lindsay answered. "Go back to London."

It wasn't really funny, and Maureen was too tired to pretend.

"The only thing I've found that helps is a bath," Lindsay said. "The water isn't cold, but if you don't dry off, the evaporation cools you off."

"I'll try it," Maureen said, obediently trudging upstairs. "They never told me about this in journalism school," she added over her shoulder.

Lindsay started to laugh. "No? Jesus, I had a whole course in it. It was called 'Resourcefulness in tight spots.' Go back to bed as soon as you can," Lindsay called after her. "You'll need all the sleep you can get. You're in West Africa. You never know what this place is going to throw at you."

—from An African Affair

release date: July 2011