November 19, 2009

BOOKS: Wife of the Gods, Kwei Quartey (2009)

Solid first novel, a police procedural set in Ghana. Detective Darko Dawson is based in Accra, the capital city, but is sent to a small rural village to assist with a murder investigation. He's the logical choice to go; he speaks the local language and even has family in the area. The victim is a popular young woman, a promising medical student who does volunteer AIDS education work in the area.

There are, of course, lots of colorful exotic details (*) -- the villagers living in huts, the unusual food, the superstitions that won't die out -- but the basics of a good murder mystery don't change; lust, greed, power, secrets, and revenge will drive someone to kill in Ghana just as much as they will in the US. Quartey's characters are entertaining and his mystery is well-plotted. If he chooses to return to this character, there are surely other worthwhile stories to be told; letting Dawson stay in Accra, for instance, for a look at urban African life, would be fascinating. (It would also allow Dawson's wife and son to be given a larger role than they get here; they're largely on the sidelines while he's away from home, and they're interesting enough characters that I'd like to see more of them.)

(*) Oddly enough, one of the most exotic details is the extraordinary politeness with which everyone -- police, suspect, murderer -- treats everyone else. Try to imagine the following conversation taking place between detective and suspect in an American setting: "Oh, and by the way, I'd like to officially apologize for my arresting you. No hard feelings?" "None. You were doing your job."

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