Black Widow pairs a dark murder mystery with a slice-of-life sketch of modern life in Nigeria. A first novel by Nigerian engineer Chibuike Godwin Ezenwa, this thriller hits some high notes, but makes the reader work for the reward.
The story prologue opens on a young girl named Nancy who witnesses deadly violence in her neighborhood. It should be a shocking moment, but we’re distracted from the potentially visceral scene by the writer’s passive style, an issue that persists throughout the book. For instance, Ezenwa writes: “The manner the man ended his wife’s life was more cruel.” The indirect (and awkward) language keeps readers at a remove from even the most potentially gripping scenes.
As Ezenwa unravels the story of Nancy’s adult life, suitors abound, but so does tragedy, and Nancy’s love life seems doomed. Brutal attacks on her boyfriends come from out of the blue, leaving us wondering: Who is behind the attacks? Is it Nancy’s first love, the injured Lancelot? Or any one of the long line of men she has rebuffed over the years? Ezenwa doesn’t reveal the true villain until near the end, although few readers will be truly surprised at the outcome.
Day-to-day details of Nancy’s life —the restaurants she visits in the Bahamas, her father’s intricate business deals—tend to take over the story between dramatic turning points. Ezenwa includes courtroom scenes, possibly intended to bring these two worlds—the mundane and the momentous—together, but the legal maneuverings are too brief and scattered to have much impact on the overall story.
Black Widow feels like a promising draft more than a fully polished novel. The story shows many encouraging elements—intrigue, realistic dialogue, a sense of place—but they rarely gel in a way that truly engages. Further editing for clarity and coherence would take this debut to the next level.
Also available in hardcover.