Thursday, April 28, 2016

Ghana Mystery, GOLD OF OUR FATHERS, Kwei Quartey

In this fourth in the Darko Dawson investigations (there's also a novella), Darko's just been promoted to Chief Inspector in the Ghana Police Service, which ought to call for celebration -- especially because Darko's own promotion follows that of his cantankerous boss Theophilus Lartey. Readers of the first three books in Ghanaian-American author Kwei Quartey's series -- Wife of the Gods, Children of the Streets, Murder at Three Points -- know that Lartey made things difficult for Darko Dawson and especially for Dawson's family, with frequent assignments away from the family home in Accra, where his wife Christine teaches school and his sons are finally thriving.

But the new Chief Superintendent Oppong, although an unexpectedly tidy and organized man and reasonably kind on the first day of teamwork, has rough news for Darko: a year-long transfer out of headquarters, to take charge of a police station in 160-miles-distant Obuasi where the head officer just died. Considering Ghana's roads and traffic and more, that's not a workable commute. Darko's entire family life will need rearranging, including the care for his more vulnerable son Hosiah.

Even as Darko Dawson's family changes its plans, Darko's racing to his new position, where the discovery of a murder in the muddy terrain of the gold mines brings immediate relief from trying to straighten out backlogged records, lazy staff, and more. It's enough to cheer Dawson up and give him the satisfaction of an urgent investigation of a crime.

GOLD OF OUR FATHERS reveals the power struggles of comparatively wealthy mine owners and a labor force of people who have little control over their lives. But it also portrays in a tender fashion the customs, traditions, and linguistic dances of Ghanaian life, from the finger snapping that accompanies a handshake, to traditional foods and courtesies. Plus in today's Ghana, the presence of the Chinese -- as both land investors and working people -- challenges the local ways of life. In his new position, Darko Dawson has little leverage and no quick way to his staff's needed loyalty. Good thing he figures out how to pull his former assistant from Accra to come help for a while!

Meanwhile, in this new location, the Chief Inspector confronts many temptations and bad practices that his Accra post no longer offered him, from bribes to an informant being beaten and, most dangerous for Darko Dawson, the frank interest of an intelligent woman, journalist Akua Helmsley:
"Chief Inspector," she said. "We meet again."

"And I'm sure not for the last time," he said, barely slowing his pace as he walked by, but she kept up with him.

"Progress?" she asked.

"Not much. ... The legal status of miners isn't my concern, Miss Helmsley."

Obeng got in the back seat with Wei.

"So, no prime suspect so far," Helmsley said. "Where are you going now?"

"To make some inquiries," Dawson said unhelpfully as he got into the front passenger seat.

"I'll check back with you in a couple of days," Helmsley said. "Is that okay?"

"Yes," Dawson replied, not sure he meant it.
The journalist clearly has a role in the pattern of crimes Dawson's investigating. But was she an innocent party? An instigator, creating news by pushing people toward confrontation? Or an investigator herself -- and if so, an honest one, or corrupt?

The layers and tangles add to Quartey's adept storytelling and make this a well-paced and intriguing crime investigation with significant human costs and caring. I'm enjoying the series very much -- if you haven't yet read the others, though, Quartey makes it easy to step into this fourth novel "cold" and get close to Dawson and his team.

GOLD OF OUR FATHERS is a police procedural with the twist of how policing struggles in an underdeveloped nation that's suffered the colonial boot and then desertion, open to the money and power of foreign corporations and individuals. So although the scenery and family conflicts may call to mind the gentle frictions of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, Quartey's books are closer in texture to, say, Archer Mayor's or William Kent Krueger's -- add them to your contemporary mysteries shelf, with the fresh spice of international flavor. Available now, from Soho Crime -- of course!

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