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The Nigerwife


The Nigerwife

MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER meets “White Lotus” in Vanessa Walters’ atmospheric, absorbing debut, THE NIGERWIFE.

In glossy, glittering Lagos, Nigeria, where a dilapidated apartment building on one block can swiftly turn into a street full of Italian-inspired mansions glowing with gold, the Nigerwives are their own posse. All foreign women who have married wealthy Nigerian men, they have each defied their families, sacrificed their friends and careers, and followed their husbands to a world of possibility, where wealth can buy not only designer shoes and purses, but also prestige, power and protection. Unwelcome by the locals --- and rich enough to not cross paths with them anyway --- the Nigerwives have formed their own social group. They share tips and tricks on finding the best dressmakers, secure invitations to the best boat parties and clubs, and find charitable ways to occupy themselves, their homes and children already cared for by extensive teams of servants.

"With a solid mystery at its core and more than a few red herrings, THE NIGERWIFE is a highly satisfying read, but Walters does more than intrigue and misdirect. It is her writing of the glitzy, materialistic Lagos that grounds the novel..."

When we meet Nicole Oruwari, who is ready to celebrate her son’s birthday, she is one of these Nigerwives. Her handsome, wealthy husband, Tonye, and extravagant waterfront mansion are proof that she has made it. But in recent weeks, her marriage has been struggling. While she is desperate for support and camaraderie, she is equally conscious that gossip and rumors are the real currency of Lagos, and one public misstep could ruin your family for life.

For a long time, Nicole has found comfort in the Nigerwives and their social events. But when her best friend suddenly disappears, she distances herself from the group, falling into a deep depression. The gilded cage of her marriage provides her with everything money can buy and all the help needed to maintain it, but these luxuries also make her feel invisible and worthless. She can spend all day in bed, and no one is the wiser; the meals are cooked by their chef, and the children are attended to by their nanny. Even the glow she once possessed for her husband is fading.

After finding sex toys in Tonye’s luggage, along with a hotel receipt, Nicole knows that she must confront him. Neither of them are happy, and she is tired of living under his controlling father’s thumb. When her confrontation fails to shock or even move him, she starts to seek her own happiness. She goes out more and more with her single friend, Kemi, and strikes up a friendship with a handsome, flattering photographer who makes her feel seen in a way that she hasn’t felt since the early days of her marriage.

But now it is six months after her son’s birthday party, and there have been no updates to her social media, no new smiling photos or shopping hauls. Nicole has disappeared after a boat trip with her friends, and when it seems that no one in Lagos is prepared to sound the alarm, her estranged aunt, Claudine, decides to take matters into her own hands. Although they have not really spoken in years, she loves her like a daughter --- and with good reason, considering she raised her after her mother succumbed to drugs and bad men. She took great care to guide Nicole toward the right path, and her admittance to a good school and engagement to a handsome, smart, wealthy man seem to prove that she did a fine job.

However, there are darker sides to their history as well, real reasons why Nicole would never want to speak to her aunt again. Knowing that this may be her last chance, Claudine travels from England to Lagos to determine the truth about Nicole’s life there, to find out whether or not she was ever truly safe or happy there, and to figure out where she has gone…or if she is even alive.

Arriving not as a wealthy wife but as a commoner, Claudine quickly sees that Lagos is not everything Nicole presented it to be…at least not once you step off her husband’s family’s property. As a Black woman living in England, Claudine is no stranger to microaggressions or judgments, but the social language in Lagos --- where nearly everyone but the Nigerwives are the same race --- is different, more muted and often more insidious. Superstitions and rumors dominate conversation. Everyone, including the police, can be bought, which makes the investigation into Nicole’s disappearance nearly impossible.

When Claudine learns that Tonye’s family is busy planning an extravagant wedding for his sister, and that they have been working to bury the news of Nicole’s disappearance to avoid clouding the happy day, her suspicions mount. Did Tonye or his family have something to do with her disappearance? If not, are they capable of determining who did? And why, when she was a good, beautiful wife who provided them with two sons, do they not seem to care where she went?

With a solid mystery at its core and more than a few red herrings, THE NIGERWIFE is a highly satisfying read, but Walters does more than intrigue and misdirect. It is her writing of the glitzy, materialistic Lagos that grounds the novel and completely immerses readers in the ominous, eerie tone that accompanies Claudine’s investigation. Lagos comes alive in Walters’ prose, acting as almost a third main character. Although her descriptions are vivid, it is her careful, beautifully rendered gift of identity that makes Lagos feel step-into-the-page real. Adding to that is her sharp, clever dialogue, which manages to be as nuanced as a play while still being biting and often funny.

These traits converge to make THE NIGERWIFE a hugely successful thriller and one that dazzles as easily as it surprises.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on May 19, 2023

The Nigerwife
by Vanessa Walters