When Weston Kogi arrives in his West African home country to attend his aunt’s funeral, he has no idea what’s in store for him. How could he? Mistaken for an experienced police detective, Kogi is tossed into the middle of a thoroughly ugly conflict in the (fictitious) nation of Alcacia.
Making Wolf is an old school mystery-action-thriller and an intense, powerful, riveting story. This could be described as a dude book, filled with violent action, brutal reversals, corrupt and awful people, a scant handful of decent folk, and several beautiful and smart women. The conflicts are ragged and unclean. Everyone gets their hands dirty. In less assured hands a story like this can come across as gratuitous and shallow and juvenile, like an adolescent boy playing at being a tough man when his definition of tough is purely Hollywood. Making Wolf works because Thompson has an unflinching understanding of how cynical and compromised people can become while depicting them as people with understandable motives and reactions. It is, as I’ve said, a violent book, but I never felt pandered to.
As a character, Weston is often clueless and out of his depth. He compromises, and not always in a noble way. He makes bad choices, sometimes because they are the most rational choices. He lies to himself. He lies to others. In other words, he feels not like a superhero whom destiny has fitted out to charge in and become the savior but like an imperfect person who finds a way to survive and, possibly, to figure out who he has a chance of becoming. I could identify with some of the metaphorical and psychological elements of his journey, which made it a sobering trip.
The pacing is electric. The story and situation grabbed me immediately and never let up. Thompson has a precise eye for local detail and a thorough understanding of the setting, which he delineates succinctly and with exactitude.
I often don’t feel I’m good at expressing my emotional experience of reading. I’m far more comfortable when analyzing structure or theme, while the core of this novel is its emotional, visceral ride. I was surprised at how engrossed I was in a story that in other hands I would probably have disliked. Thompson’s writing is absolutely solid, but it’s the clear-eyed, unblinking, harsh aesthetic he brings that sold me.
TW: for extreme violence.