Saturday, January 01, 2011
DEVIL-DEVIL: Engrossing New Mystery from Graeme Kent. And a New Translation: THE DEVOTION OF SUSPECT X by Keigo Higashino
Complicating the discovery of the white man's corpse is how Kella finds it: being re-buried by a newly arrived Catholic nun, Sister Conchita, who pays enough attention to native ways and traditions to realize that the chaos erupting locally might be partly calmed if the old bones were quickly re-buried. Unfortunately, the bullet hole in its skull means that Kella can't allow this to happen. And as soon as he intervenes, he and young Sister Conchita become targets of a murderous sharpshooter (with blessedly poor aim).
That's the start of a rattling good mystery that teams up these two likeable characters -- Kella with his divided loyalties (in addition to being a police officer, he's a native peacemaker with larger obligations), and Sister Conchita with her instant willingness to take a stand against any apparent injustice, no matter what the cost. And here's even better news: In bringing this book out for February 2011, Soho Crime has announced that it's the start of "the Sister Conchita and Sergeant Kella Series" -- yes!!! I love the way this publisher gathers up international crime fiction and brings it home to us!
I haven't found out a lot about Graeme Kent beyond the basics that the book blurb offers -- he's been a soldier, editor, headmaster, BBC producer, and was head of BBC Schools broadcasting in the Solomon Islands for eight years. A full-time writer since the mid 1990s, Kent is the author of more than sixty books. In fact, one online resource says he's written and edited more than 120! Whatever the final number, he's seasoned and deft with words and plot, providing polished writing with humor, interest, intrigue, and a dash of suspense. It's swiftly clear in this novel that Ben Kella's opposite number, the disturbing bush master of magic Pazabosi, is directing many of the complications, and Kella's hunt for the powerful leader of the island's highland people -- who has already publicly cursed Kella -- will require all his wisdom, knowledge, and luck. Even a sultry schoolteacher who greets him up on the mountain warns him right away about Pazabosi: "He is an evil man who sups with the devil-devils," she says bluntly.
Good thing she didn't say it that way to Sister Conchita. It would have been exactly the words the young and rebellious nun required to convince her to seek for Pazabosi herself.
This book gave me a lot of fun, as well as a hunger to know more about the Solomon Islands. And although Kent isn't a native of the region, he gives a convincing portrait of what local tradition entails, as well as of the compromises that the wisest leaders can craft. Mark this one as a keeper.
* * *
But the stiff control exerted by Yasuko's neighbor Ishigami, who's besotted with her, makes it hard to find a comfortable position as reader. With whom should we identify? Detective Yukawa is the most likeable, but his role is so much smaller that Yasuko's and Ishigami's that there's no easy position here. Nor do the voices of the characters differ among each other significantly -- and here again, I suspect the translation of failing us.
There are some great plot twists in store, and a surprise ending that performs the twist of a final line of a good haiku. But is it great fiction? I'm not convinced.
Nonetheless, it's worth taking a look at this new arrival. As we all access more translations of crime fiction from multiple cultures and languages, each book adds to our experience, and our ability to form considered opinions about how our global interactions can best proceed.
Posted by Beth Kanell at 10:45 PM