In the face and heat of advanced information technology, it is now possible for the fictional to look exactly like the real and for lies to sound like the truth, and vice versa. That is why Queen Minji, the central character in Goro wa Kamau’s novel Beyond the Shadow, almost falls prey to a serial killer. But more of that later.
The narrative starts off at school where Queen feels misplaced and socially out of step with fellow girls because she owns an old-generation handset as opposed to Shantel’s smartphone. The girls tease and nickname her Queen A (where the A means Analogue), while Shantel is regarded as “the real Queen” because her phone can access social media — Facebook — and win her many more friends than Queen A.
It is through Shantel’s phone that Queen gets hooked up with Bon Menja. After many Facebook posts, Queen and Bon are virtual lovers, long before they meet. Bon is a self-proclaimed lady killer.
Unknown to Queen, he has already charmed and trapped lady Chelsea via the Internet. She travels all the way from Sydney, Australia, to meet him on the strength of his magically seductive diction: “If there is any girl out there who would not fall for such a heartfelt missive, please raise your hand. You deserve a chocolate cake!”, Bon quips in self-congratulation.
He meets and kills Chelsea in Mombasa, but this murder goes undetected. To conceal his crime, he sells the Australian lady’s phone to a truck driver, who is eventually arrested in Uganda and charged with the murder.
One outstanding motive that drives the narrative is Bon’s love-hate relationship with women. It all starts with his sister’s death when he is only 10. A prophet explains that the evil eye of a witch has killed her.
He becomes so angry that he literally wants to cut the world around him into pieces. And because the killer is female, he is bent on seducing and luring women and killing them to avenge his sister’s death.
He rejoices in the acts of vengeful killings and the assumption that the police are too daft to apprehend him. He assumes, wrongly, that officers are not well schooled in matters social media.
Matters reach a climax when Queen’s father finally buys her the smartphone her mother feared would lead her astray. She finally connects with Bon directly without going through Shantel’s phone. He bamboozles her with enchanting posts.
For a fleeting moment any reader would be convinced that the “Vampire of Naivasha,” as the seemingly clueless Kenya police refer to the misogynist they don’t know is Bon, will pin and strangle Queen under his claws. One fears for the innocent girl. She is desperate to meet him.
Bon believes women are desperate to be loved. He knows there is evil lurking in him and wonders why the women can’t discern this.
In the meantime, plain-clothes police are trailing him. She does not fall into his arms as others have.
The suspense that dominates this book from page to page compels the reader to persist in looking for the ultimate. And since Bon is a dangerous character meant to trap and kill Queen, the reader’s tension and anxiety is palpable.
Being such a sensitive writer, Goro avoids treating his audience to the gory murder scenes that Bon would be identified with.
Rose’s “feminine intuition” and the likely hacking of Bon’s social media activities after he gave her his telephone number confirms that information technology is not superhuman and is conquerable, after all.
Beyond the Shadow is a superbly crafted and told story that is larger and carries many more sub-stories and histories than Queen and Bon’s dominant narrative. It begs you to read, reread and think about Seer Syokimau, and the history of the two Kenyan railways, namely the British one and the Chinese one.
It also sets you thinking about the superstitions and diverse faiths that rule human life, the struggles between social media and parents over the upbringing of children and many more.
Perhaps above all else, however, is the natural way the novel narrates Bon’s gory past and lets it follow him like a shadow, but without his knowledge, until what he believes is hidden is finally exposed.
Which takes us back to the beginning of the review: What Queen sees in the social media posts is not the real Bon but mere shadows of the psychopathic murderer that he is. Thus, even the most advanced technology can lie by projecting an image that doesn’t reflect the real.
Prof Amuka teaches literature at Moi University, Eldoret. Email [email protected]