Any discussion of Deadly Sacrifice should begin with the acknowledgement that it is one of, if not, the first in UK fiction to feature a Black female police detective. When not investigating a high-profile murder case, British-Nigerian Detective Toks Ade is a relatable middle-aged woman like any other: she struggles in her ties to a difficult ex-partner who is also the father to her aloof teenage son. Joined by a British co-worker, Detective Phillip Dean, who is plagued by his own family troubles and the biracial investigative journalist, Coretta, Deadly Sacrifice offers a happy portrait of multicultural Britain. Though two characters express their disbelief at the fact that such an ethnic-flavoured crime could happen in bonny Britain, Deadly Sacrifice asserts that this is a deeply British story.

Deadly Sacrifice is, after all, based on the true 2001 news story in which Black boy’s torso was found in the Thames. Published as part of Jacaranda’s pioneering Twenty in 2020 series, Stella Oni’s debut novel joins a number of other groundbreaking titles in making real space for Black British stories. Oni’s novel is also one of the few to move away from the appetite for trauma-centred literary fiction and break Black British voices into the ranks of genre fiction, in this case, the overwhelmingly white field of crime writing. In an interview with The Publishing Post, Oni talks about being one of the few crime writers of colour at the time she began Deadly Sacrifice: “I felt like an imposter.”

In fact, Oni’s novel is a testament to the ways in which the genre is particularly well-suited to telling some of our stories. The underworld of human trafficking as it pertains to African ritual sacrifices finds a comfortable home within the narrative framework of a crime novel. Though the supernatural element that underpins traditional beliefs adds an irresolvable element that subverts the genre expectation of a clear conclusion, it makes for an intoxicating atmosphere and truly gripping read that does not have any direct relatives in today’s crime market.

Deadly Sacrifice is based on the true 2001 news story in which Black boy’s torso was found in the Thames.”

Other influences are also apparent, namely that of Yorùbá mythology and fairy tales. Prior to Deadly Sacrifice, Oni spent nearly a decade working on her literary fiction to no professional avail. From the vividly evoked inner-city council estate to the corruption that characterises Nigeria’s upper echelons, her literary inclinations are apparent in the slower moments. While they seem to want to meditate on the significance of social divides, these moments have no choice but to run along with the relentless forward propulsion of a crime narrative. 

Though she has already written another instalment in the Detective Toks Ade series, Oni intends to write another that will be a better direct follow-up to Deadly Sacrifice. Having carved a niche for herself in the crime market with this series, its future African and Black British crime stories are bound to be warmly welcomed.

By Jane Link

JANE LINK is a master’s student and an editor for Split Lip MagazineThe Publishing Post, and her own beloved bigblackbooks. When not trying to land her first job in publishing, Jane loves to read historical fiction, self-help, and everything by Black voices. She dreams of one day setting up an independent dedicated to publishing those voices. You can find her on Twitter @verybookishjane.

STELLA AHMADU (STELLA ONI) was born in London, brought up in Nigeria and lives in the UK. She has a degree in Linguistics and African Languages from the University of Benin and an MSc in Information Systems and Technology from City University, London. Stella works as a Business Intelligence Analyst and has been shortlisted for the SI Leeds Literary Prize, UK. She is a regular contributor to Thrive Global and currently runs the culture blog African Britishness — a celebration of being African and British. You can find her on @SOnithewriter on Twitter.

Deadly Sacrifice brings us the first Black female police detective in UK fictionDeadly Sacrifice by Stella Oni
Series: Twenty in 2020
Published by Jacaranda on 17 September 2020
Genres: Crime, Thriller, Supernatural, African, Debut, Black British
Pages: 320
Format: Paperback
Buy on Bookshop.org
Goodreads
three-half-stars

When a number of young children go missing, the police are called to investigate. Then a foot is found, and Detective Toks Ade is put on the case. Thrown into a world of Nigerian traditional customs, magic and sacrifice, she must find the guilty parties before more lives are lost. A chilling new thriller introducing Detectives Tolu and investigative journalist Coretta.