Book: The devil’s pawn
Critical: Carl Terver
A night at Buscan City University, a student, Ese Preston, is kidnapped by four boys who belong to a notorious campus cult, the Black Cats. Emeka, the capone of the Black Cats, arrives in a Benz and meets them on a date. They drive to Area X, the “holy ground” of their sect, and gang-rape Ese Preston. Emeka the capone goes first. This is the premise of Kukogho Iruesiri Samson’s thriller Devil’s Pawn, whose stark opening – “Many people at Buscan University might recognize Emeka Ezeani from a distance” – reveals a grip on his language and his ability to coach. readers into a story that begins to unfold, straightforwardly, like an adventure that turns the page. Even when Emeka finds out that Ese is a virgin, he takes her. She warns the boys that they are all dead; they will regret never being born. This is because she is a water spirit who will avenge her rape. But the boys don’t know that.
Simon Tyough, a level 200 mechanical engineering student whose misadventure and four-month foray as a black cat were more down to coercion than his own will, is the latest to try Ese. But he chooses to pass, irritating Emeka. “I’m not going to touch her. She is almost dead,” he said. He is forced with a gun to kill the girl instead. He hesitates, but Emeka pointing a gun at him fires a scare shot, which by reflex Simon pulls his trigger, inadvertently killing Ese. It is a punishment for the girl: the rape and her death. She not only refused to date Emeka, a dean on campus, but once slapped him when he nagged for her attention.
At dawn, two corpses are found without their penises. The bodies are those of two of the boys from last night. The spirit of the girl began to take revenge. And her mind won’t rest until she kills all the boys. But it’s Simon, whom she possesses through a supernatural sexual pact, who stalks the boys.
What started as a slap in the face, a gang rape and the death of a girl on campus, ends in a harvest of penises. Because in no time, all the boys in the X-zone that night are killed and have their penises taken, except for the last penis, Emeka’s, the ultimate, which remains to be snatched . Prior to the mess, Emeka had assassinated a former presidential candidate. So when he is rescued from the X-zone site where Simon, possessed by the spirit of the dead girl, is about to take his penis, Deputy Superintendent Kalu Manulife, who leads the police team on the site, finds bullets that match the bullet used in the assassination of the late presidential candidate. Bullets from Emeka’s gun.
With such a lead, ASP Kalu, who has already had enough setbacks in his career, finds an olive branch and reopens the assassination case, supplying his journalist ally Zangnif Hir of the City Watch newspaper with information on the case reopened, then published in the press, stirring political space and unsettling Sylvan Odibe, a seat governor, who orchestrated the assassination.
And so, the story begins to spin, leaving like trampled landmines. As ASP Kalu holds Emeka hostage as a key witness for court testimony to indict Governor Sylvan for murder; Emeka fears his emasculation by an invincible Simon coming for him. The Governor tasks his ruthless firefighter Benson, a former DSS officer and former enemy of Kalu, to hunt down and kill Emeka. Another menacing national title looms on the horizon. The heat never stops for any character in the twists, reminiscent of NYTimes bestsellers by Tom Clancy or Lisa Jackson. Devil’s Pawn takes some readers back to their teenage years when they felt the electric rush of a James Hadley Chase novel; and for its Nigerian landscape, the rustic action films of Teco Benson.
Although the story begins with Emeka, the dean of the Black Cats; it’s Simon Tyough who has the world around his neck, as he tries to free himself from the possession of Ese’s dead spirit; a horror for a very young young man. This is the case of the youthful misadventure which, beyond the gore and blood, the adrenaline rush and the action-packed scenes, is at the heart of the story.
First, he is between sleep and (sub-)consciousness when he is lured by Ese Preston’s water spirit on a tryst. Earlier, when Emeka picks up young girl Ese, we find Simon going boner, which he quickly becomes ashamed of, before his penis goes flaccid again. Thus appears the classic scenario of the exploitation of the repressed desires of the tempted by their temptress – a familiar plot throughout history – which leads Simon to sleep with the devil (the spirit of Ese), of which he becomes the pawn. But in consideration is also what leads to Simon’s company in the first place. During his first days on campus, he is harassed by a bigoted student. Harassed a second time and tired of the humiliation, he seeks help from a friend who is part of a rival sectarian group. Weeks later, his stalker is found dead, which means one thing: Simon becomes a cultist too. It’s the old story of misguided youthful stupidity.
Such mundane stories pass on Nigerian campuses and lead to more mundane instances of senseless bickering that results in the senseless deaths of young men and boys who have yet to experience the best part of their lives. Kukogho’s Devil’s Pawn somehow projects, while exploring, this banality in its graphic presentation of death and bloodshed; stupid as it is, it must be given meaning as an appeasement of chthonian deities or principalities of darkness. Because of the fool. When ASP industrialist Kalu, for example, is put in charge of the death case following retaliation against rival cultist members while Emeka believed that the death of his friends (who raped Ese) was an attack on the Black Cats by their rivals, Kalu already imagines playing it: “Someone killed someone and another someone avenged the first someone by killing the original someone. This would continue until all the people are dead or exhausted from the fighting. A bloody season, to put the words properly.
Alas, we get to see Simon finally breaking free. A lot happened: Simon was a super-villain with supernatural powers (not to die from gunshots) and a hero. He is about to kill Emeka, but with Kalu’s pleas and a new love interest, Joan, Kalu’s younger sister, whom he saved from being raped, he finds himself and finally confronts Ese’s spirit, ” Kiss my ass. It’s not my fault you died. I have done things because of you. Leave me alone.”
It is not difficult to spot Hollywood influences in the structural arc of Kukogho’s novel; something that becomes noticeable today with our storytellers and scriptwriters. However, the tropes stay at home. Here is a story of the urban myths we grew up with, of the spirits that meddle in the affairs of men; Mami Water, Lady Koi Koi and the bush babies.
Not hidden either, the attempt at cosmopolitanism, or pan-Nigerian: the decor is flattened, erasing the ethnic accent – where is Buscan City? Character names that cross ethnicities, Ese’s very British surname “Preston”, etc. Nor is the author’s re-imagining of a Nigerian police force where forensics, state-of-the-art facilities and standard procedures are used to solve crimes. That’s trying too hard in a thriller but, nonetheless, it highlights a by-product of Kukogho’s literary imagination, which is that while engaging in escapist fiction, there’s also a social vision, as the criticism of the novel on the cult teaches us.
Kukogho’s Devil’s Pawn, like a leopard ready to pounce, pounced and won the Guaranty Trust Bank 2018 CSR Project Best Manuscript Award, Dusty Manuscript Contest, and was finally published in 2020. It is without any doubt a winner for any reader. who enjoys the thriller genre. In your hands, it is always this leopard in balance. Its pages jump out at you when you flick through them nonstop.
Carl Terver is a critic and poet based in Makurdi, Benue State.