Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey
Introducing Detective Inspector Darko Dawson: dedicated family man, rebel in the office, ace in the field—and one of the most appealing sleuths to come along in years. When we first meet Dawson, he’s been ordered by his cantankerous boss to leave behind his loving wife and young son in Ghana’s capital city to lead a murder investigation: In a shady grove outside the small town of Ketanu, a young woman—a promising medical student—has been found dead under suspicious circumstances. Dawson is fluent in Ketanu’s indigenous language, so he’s the right man for the job, but the local police are less than thrilled with an outsider’s interference. For Dawson, this sleepy corner of Ghana is rife with emotional land mines: an estranged relationship with the family he left behind twenty-five years earlier and the painful memory of his own mother’s inexplicable disappearance. Armed with remarkable insight and a healthy dose of skepticism, Dawson soon finds his cosmopolitan sensibilities clashing with age-old customs, including a disturbing practice in which teenage girls are offered to fetish priests as trokosi, or Wives of the Gods. Delving deeper into the student’s haunting death, Dawson will uncover long-buried secrets that, to his surprise, hit much too close to home.
Darko has a temper. His mother disappeared when he was a child. His son has a hole in his heart. His mother-in-law is a pain in the ass, and his partner is a lazy, womanizer. To make matters worse, Darko is sent off to solve a crime in Ketanu, a community considered “bush” or antiquated, shuttled away from city life and his family until the job is done. Though the novel starts off painfully slow, once Darko is sent on his way to Ketanu and begins his investigation into a promising medical student’s murder, it was hard to put this book down.
The small town’s inexperienced police chief has his own motives and keeps getting in Darko’s way, and old timey traditions and superstition make it difficult to get much work done. Darko lashes out at anyone who pisses him off, causing him trouble with his boss and with the townspeople. At one point, I didnt think I would enjoy this story, but I was eventually so invested in the characters and their secrets and customs and affairs, I felt like I was reading a script for an original Lifetime movie. The suspects were plenty, the drama was high, and just when you think Darko has the culprit figured out…NOPE!! Darko must try again.
Quartey also does good with mixing the modern Accra lifestyle with the slow bush ways of Ketanu, shining light on the modern amenities that many might be shocked are part of daily life in African countries, while also weaving in stories about the AIDs epidemic and the reverence of traditional healers and medicine.
I greatly enjoyed this story, especially the ending. Though it’s a different location, culture, and customs, it reminded me a lot of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency television series (not the books). I would love to see this novel hit the big screen.
I’d suggest this to mystery lovers, those who enjoy international settings, and/or are interested in Ghanaian fiction.
Black Water Rising by Attica Locke (2009, 427 pgs)
I have good news and I have bad news.
The good news first: I just finished Attica Locke’s first novel, Black Water Rising, and I must say that I loved it!
The bad news: It took 200+ pages to to really get good, which greatly affected this review.
The story starts in the early 80s. Jay, a lawyer and former Black Power freedom fighter living in Houston, is treating his pregnant wife to a somewhat romantic birthday ride on the murky bayou, when the couple and their boat captain hear gunshots in the distance and spot a body tumbling into the water. Jay’s wife insists that they rescue who ever it is who is in the water, which starts off a series of events that spell out D-A-N-G-E-R at every turn. Missing guns. A mysterious Black truck. Thousands of dollars. Threats to his wife’s safety. Suddenly Jay’s world is turned upside down.
Then there is a possibility of a Black labor strike at the Port of Houston which threatens to damage an economy heavily supported by oil. Jay’s preacher father-in-law and Kwame, a former comrade in the struggle, begin pressuring Jay to represent their union on the front lines (he used to be a freedom rider, so it’s his duty to help, right?), and also use his mysterious relationship with the first female mayor of Houston to their advantage. Throw in tense race relations, murder, mistaken identity, corrupt oil companies and a smattering of Jay’s former life as a supporter of African liberation on the campus of University of Houston, and you have a very interesting, edge of your seat story.
BUT…the story took far too long to develop. Just to give you an idea of how slow the beginning was: it took me 11 days to get thru the first 250 pages. It took two to get through the last 200. It wasn’t until after I was past the halfway mark that the story began to get so good that I couldn’t put it down.
I understand though, that Locke was building a story, a bridge if you will, which resulted in a spectacular ending. She has an eye for detail (it is very obvious that her strength is in script writing), so much so, that I could literally picture many of the scenes on tv or in a movie. I just wish the beginning had been a teeny bit more engaging. I fear that readers could easily give up on this book (as a few people revealed to me when they saw my updates on Goodreads) and end up missing out on an intelligent historical crime thriller.
Though the story was slow, the ending made up for it, so much so that I am looking forward to Locke’s next novel.
I’d recommend this to anyone into suspense, mysteries, or crime thrillers. Also those who love historical fiction, especially focusing on Houston, and/or the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. Those who have a lot of patience and time to give to story development, may enjoy this as well :)