From the cover flap:
From internationally bestselling travel writer Will Ferguson, author of Happiness™ and Spanish Fly, comes a novel both epic in its sweep and intimate in its portrayal of human endurance.
A car tumbles through darkness down a snowy ravine.
A woman without a name walks out of a dust storm in a sub-Saharan Africa.
And in the seething heat of Lagos City, a criminal cartel scours the internet looking for victims.
Lives intersect. Worlds collide. And it all begins with a single email: “Dear Sir, I am the daughter of a Nigerian diplomat,and I need your help…” Will Ferguson takes readers deep into the labyrinth of lies that is “419,” the world’s most insidious internet scam.
When Laura Curtis, a lonely editor in a cold northern city, discovers that her father has died because of one such swindle, she sets out to track down – and corner – her father’s killer. It is a dangerous game she is playing, however, and the stakes are higher than she can ever imagine.
Woven into Laura’s journey is a mysterious woman from the African Sahel with scars etched into her skin and a young man who finds himself caught up in a web of violence and deceit.
And running through it, a dying father’s final words. “You, I love.”
I picked this up used at a library book sale; I’ve always been a fan of Ferguson’s work, but somewhere along the lines forgot just readable his books always are. So this sat on my shelf for a few months, until Random House set up their 2015 #ReadingBingo and I said to myself, “Hey! I have a book that I can read for the A Scotiabank Giller Prize Winning Novel square!”
419 tells the story of four different main characters – one woman from Canada who has just lost her father, one pregnant woman who is trying to escape her home, one man who makes a living scamming people, and one young man who is quickly climbing up the corporate oil company ladder. Each character has been very well developed, and feel like they could very much be real people. The more you read about them, the more you see how their struggles motivate them, the more you really empathize with them.
I can’t think of any other book quite like this one. I don’t think I’ve actually ever read anything that centres on an Internet scam. I’ve also never read another book that takes place in Nigeria. It was absolutely original, and even though I had no idea what to expect when I started reading this, it definitely was not anything I would have ever thought to expect from Ferguson.
This must be why 419 seemed to get so many mixed reviews. A lot of the reviews on LibraryThing mentioned that it was slow, not was they expected, didn’t catch their interest… and I can see where they are coming from. It is a slower paced novel, and switching from one character to another can be distracting. As for expecting it to be a thriller, however, this doesn’t seem to be what Ferguson set out to accomplish. To me at least, it seemed like this was more a story about the personal growth of people, and the struggle to do whatever you need to in order to survive.
The book is told in a structure that is similar to the movie Love Actually – you see scenes from different characters that seem to have no relation to each other, and slowly the stories start to tie closer together, until finally you can see how each of these peoples stories intersect. It’s narrated in a way so you learn to care for each character (even though some of them are jerks); you want to know what kind of impact they have on other peoples’ lives… and it’s not always a good impact.
The Bottom Line
I personally enjoyed this. A lot. I recommend it but don’t go into this expecting a fast past thriller of a novel.