Crossing continents, cultures and cant, Will Ferguson aptly captures the lives of many involved in the online scamming phenomenon known as 419.
Infamous for online scamming (though not the leading country behind it,) Nigeria is known as the forerunner in scamming money from unsuspecting victims, preying on their greed and/or sense of faith in others. The term ‘419’ comes from the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code that deals with fraud.
In a modern 419 scam, mass emails are sent out by the con man/men on a daily basis, hoping to lure in just a few people. Once they lure someone in, they’re fairly sure they can get some money from them. Supported by forged signatures, letterheads, phone numbers, addresses, and photographs, the con men use delay tactics and ‘unforeseen obstacles’ to keep people invested. Once invested, victims tend to keep investing - usually out of obligation, fear or pride.
In his fictional story ‘419’, Will Ferguson renders a real story of the infamous emails out of Nigeria, giving us the human tale from both sides - and the aftermath.
Henry Curtis, a retired school teacher, is found dead in his car, at the base of a cliff. His wife later discovers that there is no money and the house is going to be seized by the bank - Henry had been sucked into a 419 scam and gave everything he had. Henry's daughter Laura, a copy editor, believes the con was the cause of her father’s death. In her grief, she dwells on his final words, ‘You, I love,’ and uses her editing skills to find the person responsible for her father’s death.
Winston works at various Internet cafés in Lagos, releasing emails to people all over the world, hoping one of the mugu’s (fools) will take the bait. His intelligent scamming leads him into the belly of the lucrative 419 business.
Nnamdi makes his way through the Niger Delta finding whatever work he can, while pregnant Amina is walking the African terrain, away from her tribe, in search of food, shelter and safety.
The four stories converge, cross, and connect in ways that depict a complex world where nothing is as simple as black and white or right and wrong. Ferguson’s novel is one of balance and basic instinct.
Will Ferguson has written novels, travel memoirs, a humour trilogy and a memoir. He has traveled the world and won the Leacock Medal for humour three times.
Ferguson’s extensive travel writing is evident: he paints a clearer picture of Africa than he does of Canada. It’s also quite evident that he’s had a hand in comedy. His word play, storytelling and wit are his strongest skills. However, at times, his humour feels stifled, as though he’s put a lot of effort into not using it too often or for too long.
He appreciates the little details, but doesn’t burden the reader with them. He understand that when you’re grieving and have come to the realization that you’ve failed to say everything that should have been said, you tend to hold onto something as seemingly minute as the pattern in a sweater.
Often his foreshadowing feels forced. However, he does well with pacing; he balances between fast and slow, never staying with one style too long.
Readers will finish with a devoted investment in all his characters. They’re modern and living on basic instincts; they're complex, endearing, flawed, cunning, and ambitious.
Will Ferguson was born in Alberta and has spent many years travelling around the world. He has published travelling memoirs, novels and comedic works. Some of his well known books include, 'Happiness', 'Beauty tips from Moose Jaw', 'Beyond Belfast' and 'Why I Hate Canadians.' He currently resides in Calgary, Alberta with his wife and two sons.
Will Ferguson's '419' is part of the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize Shortlist, which also includes, Nancy Richler's 'The Imposter Bride', Alix Ohlin's 'Inside', Russell Wangersky's 'Whirl Away', and Kim Thuy's 'Ru'. The winner of the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize will be announced on Tuesday, October 30, 2012 at 9 p.m. EST. Digital Journal will be reviewing all of the books on this year's shortlist before the winner is announced.