Length: 185 pages
Genre: Thriller, Historical Fiction
Publisher / Year: Authorhouse and Thomson Press / First published in 2011, reprinted in 2013
Why I Read It: I wanted to see how the author handled an African story set in a time period poorly covered by History.
Read: in 2011
Reviewed by: C.C. Chuks
Author: Claude Opara
The book is also available at
A team of Britishers on a slave expedition to coastal West Africa hear the words “Olori Ejo", the name of a mumbo jumbo that strikes dread in the hearts of locals, and dismiss it as pure superstition. But is it?
"...And the Night Hissed." is a story set in the early 17th century. Reginald Cromwell, the sole medical doctor on board a slave ship, the Mater Lucia, on the West African Coast, is on a trip he'll never forget. He's saddled with looking after the health of his team and their merchandise. The territory is expectedly unfamiliar. Their journey through rainforests with tall trees, which form several layers (canopies) above the shortest ones, has an unantipated peril. Their mission starts off hitch-free on primitive coasts with fairly developed slave infrastructures. That is until they come across butchered human remains marked with what looks like emblems of Olori Ejo--bronze carvings of the head of a serpent sitting on leafy sticks--on their route. Cromwell has trouble keeping the slaves calm and is rather surprised that their panic is not the result of their capture but of being struck by something they fear even more than the white man: an unseen bogeyman they call "Olori ejo".
Local hostilities and restiveness rise. One-by-one, Cromwell and his colleagues are attacked by something that comes and goes with the flutter of leaves. For Dr. Cromwell, what starts out as a rather fascinating spook story, a fable of a people of pristine culture, takes on a new dimension and his curiousity turns into his greatest nightmare. As surreptitious waves of reprisal attacks reduce their number, he finds himself falling back on his training as a psychologist to keep his team in the right frame of mind. Funny. The last time he checked, they carried the superior armory and stealth was their thing. Were they losing their heads to local mind games? They had come prepared for mosquitoes and malaria, not a half-man-half-snake mumbo jumbo. The Yorubas allegorize Nemesis as a great snake called Olori ejo, and it was now punishing them for their murderous raids with strikes foreshadowed by wrack and ruin preambles for most minds. One thing is for sure, there is an unseen killer about and its trademark is a night-renting, mind-shattering hiss (some sort of war cry or expression of disgust) before it hacked its victims. If they are to survive these forests, they must stay together and not lose their minds.
This is a gory, irksome, embittering and frightening work of fiction set in the dark terrains of ancient West Africa. The narrator is a medical doctor who is expectedly more humane than his comrades in dealing with the slaves they accrue. Readers may find themselves wishing death upon the British crew for their cruel treatment of their captives, but for Dr. Cromwell, I believe, most will root for him to survive, and this adds to the tension. The treatment of slaves is rather disturbing but there are many lighter moments in the book. The dialogues are interesting and flow quite nicely. Each crew member is portrayed candidly from the viewpoint of a very relatable Dr. Cromwell. The climax is impaling. Overall, the novel is a well-illustrated thriller with a suspense that doesn't let up even with the last full stop (maybe the title should have had an ellipsis at the end instead of the beginning). It's an ending that will make you question everything you know (I won't give anything away).
You can read more about Claude Opara HERE