Lyrical and captivating, Kwei Quartey’s debut novel brings to life the majesty and charm of Ghana–from the capital city of Accra to a small community where long-buried secrets are about to rise to the surface.
In a shady grove outside the small town of Ketanu, a young woman—a promising med student—has been found dead under suspicious circumstances. Eager to close the case, the local police have arrested a poor, enamored teenage boy and charged him with murder. Needless to say, they are less than thrilled when an outside force arrives from the big city to lead an inquiry into the baffling case.
Detective Inspector Darko Dawson, fluent in Ketanu’s indigenous language, is the right man for the job, but he hates the idea of leaving his loving wife and young son, a plucky kid with a defective heart. Pressured by his cantankerous boss, Dawson agrees to travel to Ketanu, sort through the evidence, and tie up the loose ends as quickly and as efficiently as possible. But for Dawson, this sleepy corner of Ghana is rife with emotional land mines: an estranged relationship with the family he left behind twenty-five years earlier and the painful memory of his own mother’s sudden, inexplicable disappearance. Dawson is armed with remarkable insight and a healthy dose of skepticism, but these gifts, sometimes overshadowed by his mercurial temper, may not be enough to solve this haunting mystery. In Ketanu, he finds that his cosmopolitan sensibilities clash with age-old customs, including a disturbing practice in which teenage girls are offered by their families to fetish priests as trokosi, or Wives of the Gods.
This is a compelling and unique mystery, enriched by an exotic setting and a vivid cast. And Inspector Darko Dawson—dedicated family man, rebel in the office, and ace in the field—is one of the most appealing sleuths to come along in years.
Kwei Quartey on Ghana and Wife of the Gods
Wife of the Gods, a novel, is set in Ghana, where I grew up. It is a land of great disparities: privilege and disadvantage, wealth and poverty, high education and illiteracy. There is also a mixing of cultures that may sometimes clash. For example, contemporary, “westernized” medical practice contrasts with traditional healing in which treatments combine lotions and potions with the invocations of the gods, the warding off of curses, and the neutralizing of perceived witchcraft.
In Wife of the Gods, these cultural webs are woven into a murder mystery. The book title itself conjures up in the mind the connection of the physical, tangible world with a realm in which gods dwell. For some in Ghana, the two coexist in everyday life. In the story, a young woman is murdered and protagonist Inspector Darko Dawson soon discovers that some people believe the death is the work of a curse from the gods, or of witchcraft. Darko is a detective. It’s his job to be skeptical, but as he tries to sort through these claims on the path to the shocking truth, his mettle is truly tested.
The belief in the supernatural comes to involve Darko in a personal way. His son, Hosiah, suffers from congenital heart disease. The boy’s grandmother, and the traditional healer to whom she takes him, both believe that evil spirits are occupying the boy’s chest and causing his symptoms.
A physician myself, I would have a well-packaged medical explanation of the mechanism of the Hosiah’s illness, but the evil spirits theory seeks to clarify the why as well as the how. Wearing my writer’s hat, I examine these supernatural notions with curiosity and fascination, realizing that it is as difficult to prove that curses and evil spirits do not exist, as it is to prove they do.
It’s been popularly said that once you’ve been in Ghana, you can’t get Ghana out of you. Wife of the Gods is infused with the flavor of the place, the sights and smells, the traditions of drumming, dancing and libation pouring and the disparities of life that I took for granted as I was growing up in Ghana. Those disparities are rich material for the telling of a mystery story.—Kwei Quartey(Photo © Steve Monez)
From Publishers Weekly
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