Reviewed by: BigAl
Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words
Kindle US: YES UK: YES Nook: YES Smashwords: NO Paper: NO
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An English native, Patrick Alexander has lived in several European countries as well as California and now Miami. While globetrotting, his jobs have included university professor, corporate executive, and international financial consultant. Alexander’s first book, a collection of short stories, was traditionally published in the UK. He has also written a reader’s guide to Marcel Proust’s The Remembrance of Things Past, published by Vintage Books (with two other Proust related books on the docket). You’ll find Alexander’s interest in Proust also finds its way into The Nigerian Letter, his first novel. For more, visit his website.
“Sid Carter is an American CPA who receives a letter from a stranger in Nigeria offering him a generous percentage if Sid will only help him export his $60 million fortune out of Africa. Acting on a whim, Sid finds himself drawn into a world of intrigue that takes him to Paris, the Sahara desert, Switzerland and finally into the Islamic mosques of Cleveland.
At the same time that Sid is helping the Nigerian retrieve his money, agents from Homeland Security are tracking a sinister cell of Islamic jihadists who are planning a major act of terror to mark the anniversary of September 11th. Agent Jasmine Bloom has become an expert on Arab terrorism ever since her husband and two children were brutally murdered by jihadists in their London home. She has traced the roots of the Moslem Brotherhood back to Hitler's Nazi party and the Arab divisions in the Waffen-SS and she is determined that their evil shall not be repeated.”
Virtually everyone has received a Nigerian Letter via email. All but the most gullible of us can easily spot them, sending them flying into the virtual trashcan on sight, if they manage to make it through our spam filters. This book starts out with the story of Sid Carter, a boring accountant from Cleveland who has to explain to a Swiss tribunal how he came to have millions of dollars in his bank account. It turns out he took one of these missives at face value, which set him off on the adventure of a lifetime.
It’s a great story premise. Alexander weaves exotic foreign locales and recent concerns over terrorism into a unique story, with several twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. It is a story with loads of potential, much of it achieved. However, I had two problems, one with the story and the other a more technical concern.
The technical issue was with a few spots in the middle of the book where the author repeated himself, giving some needed back-story and then repeating it again in a slightly different way, just a few pages later. I’ll sometimes see an author repeating something from early in a book near the end, apparently not having faith in the reader’s memory. That, beyond a brief reminder, isn’t good. This situation is far worse since the reader has barely had time to assimilate what’s been said before it is being said again.
My bigger issue is with a major turning point in the book. Among those largely unexpected twists and turns is a hairpin turn about three-quarters of the way through that came completely out of left field. To avoid spoilers I won’t say exactly what it was, but it felt like I was reading a western when suddenly the shoot-out at the OK Corral had cowboys pulling out bazookas and rocket launchers.
I have several concerns with this. The first might go to taste. There is a literary term, Deus ex machina, used to describe a plot device where “a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object.” That isn’t what we had here, but only because the new event didn’t remedy an unsolvable problem.
As I see it, there is an unspoken compact between the author and the reader to not have something happen that is completely out of the realm of expectation. If anything too far out is slated for later, foreshadowing or other hints of some kind prepare the reader in advance. Even more bothersome than the sudden turn was the way the “good guys” reacted to it. Their ability to respond as quickly and efficiently as they did stretched credibility to the breaking point.
In spite of my problem with the crux of The Nigerian Letter, it is a thriller that will surprise you (in a good way) many times. If you go in anticipating an abrupt turn, maybe you won’t be blindsided in the same way I was.
Some adult language and mild adult situations.
A small number of typos and other proofing errors.
Rating: *** Three stars