Tina’s mother was murdered and she knows exactly who pulled the trigger – Mr. Greyhill, her mother’s employer and father to Tina’s half-sister Kiki. Since that tragic day, Tina a.k.a. Tiny Girl has been running the streets of Sangui City with a solitary goal – revenge. By stealing for the local gang, The Goondas, she is able to scrape by and bide her time. When a job opportunity takes her back to the scene of the crime, Tina is determined to finally exact her revenge on Mr. Greyhill. There she is reunited with Michael, her childhood friend and Mr. Greyhill’s son. With the help of Michael, Tina searches for the truth behind her mother’s murder and but she also begins to question whether or not she has her sights on the true killer.
Here’s the bottom line: “City of Saints & Thieves” is good. And by good I mean damn good. Anderson has created such a rich and riveting novel with a diverse cast of unforgettable characters. Tina has everything that I seek in a main character: she’s smart, she’s strong, and she’s flawed. She is a character that you are rooting for every step of the way. Michael complements Tina and acts as her voice of reason, even if he is a tad naive. Then we have Boyboy, tech genius, resident fashionista, and Tina’s closest thing to a friend; Bug Eye, the no-nonsense leader of The Goondas; and Ketchup, Bug Eye’s little brother with a short fuse and something to prove. Every character feels genuine and fully realized.
Anderson is also successful in immersing the reader into Tina’s world. The sights, the sounds, the smells – everything feels authentic and it is clear that the author has firsthand knowledge of the world about which she is writing. At no point during my journey through Sangui City and the Congo did I feel removed from the world. Instead of feeling like a mere visitor, a voyeur, I felt as if I were right there next to Tina the entire time. This is where it becomes apparent that Anderson has a true gift for her craft.
The slight flaw with “City of Saints & Thieves” is that it is classified as a mystery – and it is but only in the loosest sense of the term. There is a murder and it’s technically a mystery. While reading, I couldn’t help but draw similarities to works from authors like Chris Abani, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Chinua Achebe, though. In this sense, “City of Saints & Thieves” feels more like Cultural/African Literature with mystery/thriller elements thrown in (and yes, I realize that the author of this book is not African). The mystery takes a back seat rather to the social issues affecting its characters. I’m not going to lie, this book is heavy – child prostitutes, civil war, refugees, kidnapping, rape, murder – and it’s all set with a backdrop illustrating the strong divide between the wealthy and the poor. That these issues are brought to light is imperative but it just doesn’t make for breezy, happy reading. I implore you to not let the heaviness of “City of Saints & Thieves” deter you from checking out this amazing debut!