Saturday, March 29, 2014

Ghana Crime Fiction: Kwei Quartey Succeeds with Third Darko Dawson Investigation

Spring is emphatically arriving on the East Coast, even here in Vermont, where the snowpack is melting noisily, water pouring downhill, birds calling, deer tentatively coming out of the woods to see what plant life around the house and shop might sustain them a bit longer. We have Weather in wild variety and landscape that's "American classic" -- mountains, rivers, fields.

So it's a powerful contrast to step into MURDER AT CAPE THREE POINTS, the newest Darko Dawson investigation from Kwei Quartey, and migrate to the oceanfront, the hot sand-swept cities, the land of tribal tradition, omens, and malicious magic.

Detective Inspector Darko Dawson isn't quite ready for what he's suddenly responsible for solving: the murder of a wealthy married couple of significance, a case that's lingered for months without solution and that "belongs" to the police in Takoradi, on the coast. Dawson is part of a federal police force headquartered in Ghana's capital city, Accra -- and his boss says firmly that with the socially important family member of the victims, requesting federal intervention on the case, Dawson must leave immediately to tackle the cold case.

Few situations could show so quickly how little choice Dawson has: His young son Hosiah's cardiac surgery is barely a day into recovery, and Dawson and his family expect him on hand. But there is no way to decline the case without losing his job, and soon Dawson's on a State Transport bus to Takoradi, where -- without travel stipend or other support --  he's persuaded a relative to let him stay in an unfinished building. It's basic but workable; still, when his superintendent sends along an assistant (who happens to be the superintendent's nephew), the plush hotel lodgings that the assistant investigator receives throw into further perspective Dawson's perilous position. He's got to solve this case to maintain his own forward progress.

But what a case! Is there traditional magic involved? And is there significance to the location of the victims' bodies, in a canoe near an oil rig? Dawson juggles the facts as they emerge -- and for some of them, he has to handle the region's ladder of prestige and power, just to get the details:
His mind flitted over the events of the past two days like an undecided humming bird. Instinctively, he felt that the Smith-Aidoo murder had greater breadth and depth than any of his previous cases. Two corpses in a canoe adrift around a deep-sea oil rig, a severed head with an excavated eye socket, a nineteenth-century pocket watch with a scrawled inscription invoking blood ties. What did it all mean?
Kwei Quartey left Ghana after spending time in jail there for political protest, and became an American physician, still in practice in Southern California (more info here). Returning to visit Ghana as a prosperous adult, in 2008, he resumed connections with the west African nation. This is his third book featuring Detective Inspector Dawson -- the others are Wife of the Gods and Children of the Street. Reading MURDER AT CAPE THREE POINTS without the other two isn't a problem, as Quartey deftly brushes in the needed details ... but his protagonist is such a thoughtful and hard-working investigator that I think many readers will want to fill in the rest of the series for themselves. I'm not likely to have a chance to see Ghana in person, so I particularly appreciate being able to travel there in this way, through the eyes of an author who experiences multiple cultures, and a police officer who has reason to challenge his environment. I'm looking forward to more.

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