What Happened to Janet Uzor | Miracle Emeka-Nkwor | Masobe Books, 2021 | 234
A Young Adulty mystery novel by a Nigerian writer is not very common.
Even more, a YA mystery novel set in Port Harcourt is an even bigger rarity and these combine to make What Happened to Janet Uzor the debut novel by Miracle Emeka-Nkwor, an exciting acquisition which turned out, for this reader, a thrilling read.
There is a serial killer on the loose and the students of Afobiri Secondary School are the target. Every year, there is a mysterious death, made to look like a freak accident and no one has paid close attention to connect the dots until Janet Uzor dies in a similar fashion.
One of her best friends, Ebere is convinced she was murdered. Ebere is so consumed by her theory even though she gets very little support and is even recommended for therapy. Her argument seems too far fetched until a year later, during the Christmas holiday, when another friend Pamela, begins to receive strange notes, threatening her life. The duo share the information with their other classmates -, Eche, Pamela’s love interest and Daniel and they form a quartet, with a mission to unravel the mystery and ensure their friend does not die.
The book is about the investigative exploits of these four youngsters, walking a tightrope, navigating parental influences and their own teenage exuberance to piece the clues together and unmask the killer.
They do this against the backdrop of an increasingly tense atmosphere especially as the killer’s threat notes get even more urgent and they find themselves on a race against time, exposing themselves to often risky situations and revealing new information that will make all four of them (in the reader’s mind) suspects.
The nicely designed cover, the inviting page layout and the simple flowing use of language, makes the novel an enjoyable and relaxing read. It is the kind of book the voracious reader will finish in one sitting. This is made even more so by the way it pulls you in, much like peeling off the layers of an onion. The author employs suspense and plot twists to hold readers’ interest and expand the field of inquest, while subtly presenting possibilities that teases the readers. It is good credit to her that the reader is not able to easily predict what happens next.
Young readers will relate very well with this book, its main story line and the other sub-plots which the author introduces to propel the story. It would remind many of high school mystery movies and serial killer slasher movies they might have seen on cable television. The main characters are also very relatable – a diverse assortment of courage, vulnerability, intelligence, strong will and naivety.
There are certain events and actions of some characters that might not sound quite realistic or logical for some readers. Also, certain aspects of the plot, like the story about Pamela’s mum could have been better explored. But then, I suppose that is why it is fiction. In the world of young adults, things move very fast and literally everything is possible including the Nigeria police being very efficient, dedicated and professional as they are presented in this instance.
For a debut, What Happened to Janet Uzor ticks the right boxes and provides a good arrival-on-the-scene announcement for Miracle Emeka-Nkwor, another convert to writing from the sciences.
It also joins some other new books like Lagos to London in filling that void of contemporary YA novels which is key in recapturing the reading interests of young Nigerians. One hopes she serves more of such, to help grow this important genre in our literary space.
–Sylva Nze Ifedigbo, creative writer and social commentator, is the author of Believers and Hustlers. He is available on social media at @nzesylva.