Lords of Corruption
Hearts of darkness
By Steven Martinovich
By any measure Africa is one of the more depressing problems humanity is continuing to grapple with. It features appalling poverty, rampant population growth, disease, famine, low life expectancy and high infant mortality rates. Making the lives of many Africans even more miserable is the fact that most of the governments on the continent are extraordinarily corrupt, with much of the money coming in from its rich natural resource base siphoned off to arms purchases and to line the pockets of brutal dictators.
It is into that world that Josh Hagarty, the reluctant hero of Kyle Mills' Lords of Corruption is thrust into. Although ostensibly a mystery/thriller, Mills' novel raises a number of questions for the reader to ponder, from the role that western governments unwittingly – or otherwise – play in propping up corrupt rulers to whether charities and NGOs are unintentionally perpetuating the poverty and violence that seems a permanent feature of sub-Saharan Africa.
Hagarty is a young man with a past, one that continues to follow him even as he graduates with an MBA and top grades. Unable to secure work in the United States, he accepts an offer from an outfit called New Africa, a group that has been hailed by many for its results-oriented approach to aid projects in Africa. Before he knows it, he finds himself managing a farming project and confronting weary resignation from farmers used to poverty and half-hearted efforts to help them and unmistakable hostility from those linked to a dictatorial government.
Before long Hagarty finds out that his immediate predecessor was violently murdered, prompting him to begin asking questions about the viability of the project and whether someone is attempting to sabotage it. With the assistance of a beautiful yet slightly naive Scandinavian aid worker named Annika and cynical expatriate American reporter JB Flannery, Hagarty soon learns that perhaps New Africa itself is not quite what it has been billed as.
From there the reader is thrust into a world of intrigue as Hagarty grapples with a genocidal regime, a conman and a violent mobster all attempting to hide the real purpose of New Africa and its aid projects. Death and intrigue stalk Hagarty and his small party as they slowly uncover the truth, one that is unfortunately all too plausible in today's world. One could be forgiven for wondering if Mills has based some of his characters in real people.
While Lords of Corruption is a more than capable thriller, it's unfortunate that Mills didn't explore further the ethical questions that charity and the attitudes and assumptions of aid workers in Africa have raised. While on one occasion in a local bar Flannery debates the issue with one aid worker, and Hagarty himself is overwhelmed by the magnitude of what is required of him and ponders the viability of aid and the attitudes of Africans themselves, deeper questions are left unexplored. While it does nothing to detract from Mills' larger goal of crafting a compelling novel, it might have provoked further investigation by readers.
That, however, is a relatively minor quibble. Lords of Corruption is a taut, exciting thriller by any measure. Mills is skilful enough to be able to thrust the reader into an African environment populated with realistic and compelling characters and events that seem torn from today's headlines. And whether the reader walks away wanting to know more about the myriad of issues entangling aid efforts in Africa or not, they will at least be supremely entertained.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
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