OMG as we like to write on the Intergoogle. Omigawd, it has been hot around here for what – two days? Now we have the cooling fog, the ocean breezes, and we laugh at the people melting in their huts in the real California, located just a few miles inland from here.
This week I was immersed in a murder mystery set in Ghana. “An absolute gem,” according to the Los Angeles Times. “Move over Alexander McCall Smith,” shouts Kirkus Reviews.
“Wife of the Gods” is new in paperback by first-time author Kwei Quartey. I do not know this author personally, but somehow he managed to send me an autographed copy inscribed “To Anthony Miksak, Wishing all that’s good.” How could I not read his book?
And I enjoyed it very much. The publisher promotes it for “fans of ‘The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ but then every new International Cozy is compared to McCall Smith’s novels set in Botswana, starring Precious Ramotswe. Precious by now has starred in a dozen books, solving many crimes and misdemeanors and improving the quality of life in her country.
Kwei Quartey has created an intriguing lead character, Detective Inspector Darko Dawson of the Criminal Investigations Department.
A beautiful young woman has been murdered in the local forest between the towns of Ketanu and Bedome. There are suspects, too many of them. We have rumors and indications, leads and wrong leads, witchcraft and faith healing, traditional practices, family secrets. Secrets that come back to slap you in the face if your name is Darko Dawson.
“Wife of the Gods” is one English translation of the age-old practice of Trokosi, and this practice is central to the story. Young girls are given by their families as wives to a local fetish healer. Once in his compound they never leave. According to the author, “The Ghanian government and NGOs... decry the practice... Traditionalists are in favor of the tradition and deny that slavery is involved.”
Also last week I ripped through another espionage thriller by the pseudonymous John Le Carre, titled “A Most Wanted Man.” It’s interesting to compare these two adventures, one a debut, the other maybe the 22nd in a revered pantheon of successful novels.
John Le Carre, David Cornwell on his British tax returns, explores his well-known urban territory – government sponsored spy craft, international espionage, faltering bureaucrats, do-good charities, a conflicted private banker, several individuals each with at least a spark of heroism. In “A Most Wanted Man” everything revolves around one mysterious Muslim boy, a refugee named Issa.
Issa has Chechen roots; he has been tortured in Russia. He can hardly speak, yet somehow he has sufficient moxie and enough cash to bribe his way to Hamburg, Germany, in search of his father’s inheritance. When he gains it, he gives it away. Various government agencies hunt and hound him. Issa is a potential threat because his situation is so amorphous. Is he connected to terrorists, or simply a boy in search of his patrimony? No one, friend or enemy, succeeds in fully understanding him, and in a Le Carre novel that is a most dangerous situation.
The astonishing, surprising, ending reminded me of the slamming denouement of Le Carre’s novel “Absolute Friends.” Le Carre admires the power of anti-terrorism forces and abhors the assumptions that underlie their actions.
The lands in which these two authors place their novels – forest paths or city streets – could not be more diverse. Yet the underlying landscape is very much the same. Few characters see things clearly and fewer still have the power to set things right. Everyone is flawed. No situation is free of secrets and doubts.
It is likely we will have many more mysteries from Kwei Quartey. His next, due in 2011, is titled “Children of the Street.” African culture and its contradictions will provide endless adventures.
Kwei Quartey was raised in Ghana. He trained as a doctor and settled in California. His biography notes that “when he was eight years old, Kwei began to write short novels that he bound by hand with colorfully illustrated cardboard covers.”
I doubt David Cornwell ever did that, but how would I know?
“Wife of the Gods” by Kwei Quartey. Random House paperback $15. ISBN 9780812979367.
“A Most Wanted Man” by John Le Carre. Pocket Books paperback $9.99. ISBN 9781416596097.