If you have an email account, chances are you have received at least one scamming note. You are smart and you erase them. Laura’s father was not; he responded. He fell into the abyss of “419”, Nigerian slang for perpetrating a scam. In his novel, 419, Will Ferguson paints the fear and anger of lives dispossessed — those of both the scammed and the scammers.
With dexterous intricacy Ferguson inserts us into the stories of Laura, habitué of Northill Plaza in Calgary; Nnamdi, boy and man from a once-remote part of Nigeria; Amina, a destitute pregnant woman walking away from her identity; and, Winston, skilled self-taught Lagos internet scammer. That these stories converge without obvious contrivance is the Ferguson’s triumph.
After their father’s death, Laura’s family is incensed that he was a victim of an internet scammer, to the extent of losing all his financial assets. Laura’s mother leaves the mortgaged family home, moving into the basement of her son’s large home in Springbank. Slowly the police convince the family that internet scammers are absolutely anonymous. There is no way they can recoup money sent via wire transfers to someone with innumerable aliases.
Laura, however, is an editor. She believes the pen is more powerful than the sword. Laura separates out a single writer of notes from the chaff of purported government officials and other veracity-inducing supporting actors. An author’s errors and quirks leave an indelible signature. Laura seeks revenge.
Subtext to this well-woven tale is the question of whose morality is superior. The internet scammers self-justify their illegal trade as an extracting of revenge on white colonialists, even though the criminals pursue victims of any race with enthusiastic and perverse fairness. Plus, victims are greedy or they wouldn’t respond, right? Nnamdi is a genuinely generous person who undertakes illegal tasks to survive and be part of his community. Amina has nothing; isn’t she entitled to something in this world? Laura would rather be dead than accept her father’s undeserved fate! Fate: is it cast in stone?
by Judith Umbach