Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Brief Mention: THE MISSING AMERICAN, Kwei Quartey, Ghana Mystery

The Ghanaian mysteries from Kwei Quartey, published under the Soho Crime imprint of Soho Press, prove how vital it is to read, read, read -- across lines of culture. Following the emotional journey and puzzle solving of a crime novel protagonist conveys culture far more effectively than a documentary can. Because what matters most is the human journey of exploration, growth, survival ... and love.

Quartey, born in Ghana and now a a physician in southern California, created his first series around Ghana Police Service officer Darko Dawson and his family. Freighted with significant needs for his wife and children and the community he cares for, Dawson's negotiated crime and corruption, and done well for himself. Still, in many ways, despite the very different landscape, the framework for the Darko Dawson novels has felt familiar, an echo of the values and passions of North American life.

With his newest title, THE MISSING AMERICAN, Quartey takes a leap into far more edgy writing, with dark twists and disturbing motives. Fittingly, he introduces a new protagonist: 26-year-old Emma Djan, eager for a police career like her father's but dumped unceremoniously out of the police force in a harshly unfair twist that #metoo readers will confirm is far too likely.

However, with a dash of luck, a connection with a former associate takes Emma to a job after all, in a private detective agency. The "crimes" she'll investigate are more personal and less idealistic -- cheating spouses, for instance -- but also include missing persons, as well as opportunities to test her deductive reasoning. It's not the worst possible outcome.

Yet Ghanaian crime includes notorious global scam networks, and Emma's fall from grace hasn't made her immune to this dark network of misleading and threat. When her path crosses with that of American Derek Tilson, whose vulnerable and lonely father's become a scam victim and is now missing, the plot escalates. Suddenly Emma's in the midst of experiences very much like those she'd have faced as a police officer:
The attendant rolled back the sheet and Emma saw it was even worse than she'd imagined. Had not a head and outstretched arms been present, Emma would bot have thought it human. Eyes popped out from a blue-green face that had become slimy, bloated, and pushed off to the side like a badly-fitted mask. The mouth was open with the lips forming an oval in a silent scream for help. Some of the skin on the arms and chest had turned deep purple and had sloughed off—or was about to.

Emma shuddered and averted her eyes. Derek retched, turned, and ran out of the room. Sowah looked at Ema and they both went after Derek. He was outside the building leaning against the wall in the rain.
Because Emma's worked to find Derek's father as a missing person case, her role is technically now done -- but can she let go of solving the actual crime?

Quartey laces THE MISSING AMERICAN with other scenes that are as tragic and terrible, and some that shiver with horror. He uses Emma's reactions to probe the reasons for such moments: poverty, morality, family dysfunction? Whichever is responsible for each form of human abuse, it's not isolated. And in this new depth of exploration, Quartey gives us a fresh series with potential for sustained insight and deep, if painful, consideration.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

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