Aug 8, 2011

Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey - A Review


July 2009, Mystery

Random House, 336 pages,
 ISBN-13: 978-0812979367, Available on Amazon

As soon as I came across Kwei Quartey’s Wife of the Gods, I knew I had to read it. The cover reeled me in mercilessly! I had to wait a few weeks because I was already committed to other books with a accompanying reviews, but it was well worth it. I couldn’t resist the lure of a murder mystery set in Ghana, written by a Ghanaian writer.

Detective Inspector Darko Dawson is sent from the Ghanaian capital, Accra, to the small town of Ketanu to investigate the murder of a young medical student, Gladys Mensah, who was volunteering for an AIDS outreach program in the area. The local inspector believes it to be an open-and-shut case and fingers a suspect. Dawson doesn’t follow the same line of thought, and would rather pursue the investigation in a different direction to find the ‘real’ killer, much to the annoyance of Inspector Fiti.

Running parallel to the murder investigation of Gladys is the story of Dawson. Dawson is haunted by the memory of his mother who disappeared during a trip to Ketanu decades earlier. The case was never resolved but the investigator who doggedly pursued all leads until the trail went cold inspired Dawson, and also served as surrogate father and mentor. Dawson uses his presence in Ketanu to finally seek closure in this case. 

Dawson is a well-crafted character. He’s a young husband and father, absolutely devoted to his family. His son was born with a heart defect and needs an expensive procedure that the family cannot afford. Dawson’s mother-in-law steeped in the old traditions would rather procure the services of a traditional healer than wait for the needed money to be raised, which raises Dawson’s ire. His wife, Christine, has to mediate between the two.

As the stories move long, Dawson comes into conflict with the local culture that is entrenched in superstitions, the belief in witchcraft as well as the age-old practice of trokosi. In Quartey’s own words, (virgin) “teenage girls are offered by their families to fetish gods as trokosi, or Wives of the Gods.” This is done as compensation for offences committed or debts incurred, by a member of the girl's family. The fetish priest, Togbe Adzima, is a particularly revolting character and seemingly has motives for killing Gladys, and it doesn’t take much of a stretch for Dawson to suspect him of being the perpetrator. 

As Dawson continues to pick up loose ends he is increasingly frustrated and we see the volatility of his temper, as well as the vulnerability that lies beneath the smooth veneer. Despite his hot headedness, he’s a good man. He cares about his work; the people affected by the case (the deceased’s family and the suspect currently in holding), and he isn’t satisfied with easy answers.

What makes this book really enjoyable is how Quartey ties everything together. Nothing seems like an afterthought, no character is merely taking up oxygen, it all works. And I love it! The beautiful scenery of the Volta region in Ghana is a wonderful backdrop, and the images just seemed to leap from the pages into my imagination. Quartey is a first time novelist, but his talent speaks for itself; he skillfully weaves together the murder investigation and the missing person’s case with satisfying results.

It all makes for a compelling story, and I am delighted to know that this is the beginning of a Darko Dawson series. There is enough to build upon to have readers eager to follow the adventures of the complicated character that is Darko Dawson. This is a good, solid mystery! 

6 comments:

Glad to hear you enjoyed this one so much. It's on my list of books that I want to read at some point!

I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did. The second book in the series just came out a few weeks ago. Sadly, I won't be able to read it for a while.

Sounds interesting, but unfortunately I stopped reading crime-fiction with Sherlock Holmes in my teens. This is the type of fiction that could be made into a movie or movie-series, and then unleashed onto the African masses.

Aw, James! Sorry to hear that. I can't tempt you even a little to read my latest, CHILDREN OF THE STREET? I too was, and still am, a great fan of Sherlock

Thank you MissBwalya for your super review. COTS is a different flavor of story set in the relentlessly eventful capital of Ghana, Accra. Here, Darko is in his element, but the murders are baffling. What's going to happen to his beloved son Hosiah with his heart ailment? Read and find out.

I'm so glad you found and reviewed some African crime fiction. I've just picked it up at the library. Can't wait to get started with it!

-James, you're a better capitalist than I. I hadn't given any thought to how well the book would translate to film. On the other point, I'm also a lover of Sherlock Holmes & reading this book isn't traitorous. :-)

-Kwei, you're most welcome. My review speaks for itself, the book was thoroughly enjoyable & I look forward to reading more from you.

-Mwanabibi, I'm glad the review steered you towards picking up the book. Enjoy it & let me know what you think.

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