Apr 26 2013 11:00am

Fresh Meat: Hour of the Red God by Richard Crompton

Hour of the Red God by Richard Crompton is a debut novel set in Kenya (available May 7, 2013).

In Richard Crompton’s Hour of the Red God, a woman is found mutilated in Uhuru Park, a normally peaceful gathering place in Nairobi, Kenya. Former Massai warrior and now-detective Mollel is called on to the case. Mollel, with his fine-tuned sense for justice, is determined to discover what happened to this young woman, regardless of her profession or her tribal affiliation.

The other investigating officers assume the murder is just the bad-end of a prostitution lifestyle. They also consider the possibility this is a female circumcision gone wrong, since the Massai still maintain the practice when women come of age. Mollel, unwilling to accept these explanations, follows the clues—through sewers, along back streets and alleys—all the way up to Nairobi’s upper classes.

One of the immediately intriguing parts of Hour of the Red God is the sense of place. Crompton has turned pre-election 2007 Nairobi into a character all its own. Filled with enough crime, corruption, and political maneuvering to rival any New York or Washington, D.C. setting, Crompton establishes that this is no New York in the opening sequence, as Mollel chases a purse snatcher through the marketplace:

Taking up an entire city block, with more ways in and out than a hyrax burrow, on a day like this the market’s dark interior is thronged with shoppers escaping the sun. Mollel considers yelling Stop, mwizi! or Police!—but calculates that this would lose him precious time. The thief leaps up the steps and deftly vaults a pile of fish guts, pauses a moment to look back —showing, Mollel thinks, signs of tiring—and dives into the dark interior. Mollel’s gaunt frame is just a few seconds behind, his heart pounding as he gulps lungfuls of air even as his stomach rebels at the powerful reek of fish.

Not only is Nairobi a well-established locale, but Crompton also creates a great sense of how the Nairobi police department functions—which is mostly corruptly and short-handed. It’s clear there is no backup. Mollel beats feet with his partner, plunging through sewers, canvassing neighborhoods, interviewing witnesses, and doing all the grunt work that generally is ‘assigned’ in other police procedurals. For example, when Mollel and his partner, Kiunga, get a lead on a witness, and they have to do something that a lot of other fictional police don’t have to do: wait.

—Now, if this was a movie, says Kiunga, I’d pick up my radio, put out an APB, get the driver’s name off the central computer, have him hand delivered to Central for questioning.

—Yep, says Mollel. But this is Nairobi. And we don’t have a radio, can’t put out an APB, and getting his name means waiting until Monday morning, going down to the motor vehicle licencing office, and hoping the clerk there will be in a good enough mood to fetch the card for you rather than making you go through the files yourself.

Mollel does the work, and the reader benefits for it. Watching Mollel in action is wonderful. He’s a cop, a father, a warrior, and an elder. But above all, he searches for justice. He follows the clues. If that means he has to face down a powerful religious leader, or question a tribal elder, or rebel against his superintendent, he will do it. And he does. Sometimes that’s likeable. And sometimes, such as when he leaves his kid in a strange shop for a couple hours, it’s not-so-likeable. 

And Mollel is not the only character with a complex past. Even the side characters get powerful histories. Superglue Sammy is an informant who Mollel interviews early on in the novel, and Crompton describes how Sammy’s mother superglued his eyes shut in order to gain sympathy for begging:

The child—then a boy of six—was taken away. The good doctors found the skin of his eyelids fused to his corneas, some said because of the glue; others suggested a prenatal infection…they sent him back to Kibera, but his mother was not there anymore. She’d become so lonely without Sammy that she’d downed a bottle of the illegal local spirits, chang’aa, poured all her glue into a plastic bag, and stuck her head into it.

Hour of the Red God is an ultimately moving novel. Crompton’s story is complex, with layers upon layers, from family, to tribe, to society, to religion. All of these elements play a role in this story, which at its heart, is about the questions of justice: What is justice? Who delivers it? And what are the consequences if it never happens?


For more information, or to buy a copy, visit:

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See more coverage of new releases in our Fresh Meat series.

To enter for a chance to win one of three copies of Richard Crompton’s Hour of the Red God, make sure you’re a registered member of the site, and then simply leave a comment below.

TIP: Since only comments from registered users will be tabulated, if your user name appears in red above your comment—STOP—go log in, then try commenting again. If your user name appears in black above your comment, You’re In!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of fifty (50) United States and the District of Columbia, who are 18 or older. To enter, fill out entry at  beginning at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) April 26, 2013. Sweepstakes ends at 11:59 a.m. ET on May 3, 2013 (the “Promotion Period”). Void outside of the 50 US and DC and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules at Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010

Jenny Maloney is a reader and writer in Colorado. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in 42 Magazine, Shimmer, Skive, and others. She blogs about writing at Notes from Under Ground. If you like to talk books, reading, publishing, movies, or writing feel free to follow her on Twitter: @JennyEMaloney.

Read all posts by Jenny Maloney for Criminal Element.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
Karen Sterling
2. ksterli
Sounds terrific! I like that it takes place in Africa.
Joshua Atkins
3. atkinsj
I love mystery / detective fiction, but the Nairobi setting is a new one for me. Interesting. Can't wait to check it out. Thanks for the giveaway!
Ava A Chavez
10. ava_ann01
Finall...An idea that has been written a million times!
11. edq143
sounds like an interesting read
Tony Fitzpatrick
13. fitzp100
Sounds exciting! Would love to read it.
Deborah Dumm
14. deb730
Book sounds great, can't wait to read it!!!!!!!!!!!!!
William Hamilton
15. billham68
I enjoy debut novels. Look forward to Jenny Maloney's first effort.
Max Cage
17. maxcage
Very interesting, I look forward to checking this out.
Joyce Mitchell
18. JoyceLm
Interesting new setting for a mystery series. Thanks for the review.
Anna Mills
19. Anna Mills
This sounds as if it's a rare story indeed!
Dorothy Newmark
20. bookgirl1
This sounds like a great setting for an intriguing sounding mystery!
Allison Moyer
22. The Loopy Librarian
I've never read a murder mystery set in Africa. That fact alone makes this book one that I'd love to read.
David Rainey
23. davidrainey
I usually can't get into settings that take place in Africa. Perhaps because the society there is so much different. However, the book does sound intriguing.
25. janedoe
Sounds very intruiging! Hope I win a copy.
Cindi Hoppes
26. CindiHoppes
This African mystery story line sounds so fascinating!
Many thanks, Cindi
Patricia Nicklas
27. pmernick
Sounds like a fascinating read in an interesting setting.
28. Mary M.
I would like to read this book.
Sharon Shumway
34. Shellen
This is a definite winner and I want to win it.
iris sachs
35. iris
Sounds interesting, while Uhuru Park is safe durring the day, like many parks it is unsafe at night. I was in Kenya last year and would love to read this book.
David Vinther
37. dvinther
interesting new setting for a crime novel.
Melissa Dials
38. Mimi
Love reading debuts ..especially in new settings!
39. mosaix
Massai warrior-detective! Yes!
Rosa Abraham
41. ravensfan
Interesting concept. Would love to win it.
42. Maryann
Always looking for a new mystery series. Sounds good.
Charles Fraker
43. CharlieF
African Africa! Mysteries are fun. Sign me up.
Andrew Kuligowski
46. KuligowskiAndrew
I can name at least 3 series set in Botawana (2 of which I've read at least some of the books), and another 2 in South Africa (again, that I've read - And I know there's even more set there.) And toss in a couple set in Ghana ... but I have not yet encountered one set in Kenya, and look forward to reading of Nairobi!!
susan beamon
48. susanbeamon
This sounds like an interesting series, that I might get started with if I win a copy of this book.
lynette barfield
51. lynette
I would love a copy. It sounds great.
Louis Burklow
52. Nash62
A new kind of African detective. As much as I like the No. 1 Ladies Detective stories I'd love to read this one too.
54. Neroon
I thought the number 1 ladies detective agency books were great so would like to read another mystery set in africa.
Suzanne Gonneville
60. Thumbs
"What is justice? Who delivers it?" The Red God?
Susan Mahaffey
61. Smbirds
At first I thought it would not be of interest to me but as I continued to read what it is about, I know I would enjoy reading this book.
Karen Cherubino
62. kcherubtx
Sounds very complex and interesting. Good review!
Bruce Hamilton
63. deerwalker
Mystery set in Kenya. Sounds very interesting.
Kelley Tackett
67. tackettfamilyky
This sounds fascinating! Love to discover a new author!
Kari Flores
68. kari944
This looks so good. My husband is currently deployed to Africa so I love that the setting is near where he is.
kathy pease
72. klp1965
Thank you for the great giveaway please count me in :)
Ed Nemmers
76. saturdaynightfever
I would love to read the work of Richard Crompton!
Marisa Young
78. Risa
Exotic location - interesting character - would love to read this book
80. strangerwmancandy
Looks sweet
Shirley Zolenski
83. daveshir2005
Awesome giveaway! Thanks
Buddy Garrett
It sounds like a great read. Thanks for the giveaway.
Susan Smoaks
90. susansmoaks
Thanks for the review and I can't wait to get my hands on this book!
Jennifer Jozwiak
91. jennvozik
Sounds good, i'm always on the lookout for new books and authors!
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