Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wife of the Gods, by Kwei Quartey--a review, and TLC Book Tour stop

When Darko Dawson was a young boy, his mother travelled from his family's home in Accra, the capital city of Ghana, to visit her sister in the small village of Ketanu where she lived.  While on this visit, Darko's mother vanished without a trace.  This left Darko, his disabled brother, and his often volatile father to fend for themselves.

Darko's father reported his mother missing, and police detective Daniel Armah investigated the case.  Armah persisted in the investigation, but Darko's mother was never found.  But Armah forged a relationship with young Darko, who was inspired by the respect he felt for Armah to become a police detective himself when he grew up.

Now Darko is a detective inspector with the CID in Accra, and he has a wife who is a teacher, and a young son who suffers from a heart defect.  

Darko is called to Ketanu once again, to investigate a murder.  Young medical student and AIDS educator and activist Grace Mensah's strangled body is found in the forest by a young "trokosi", or wife of the gods, essentially a concubine of the local fetish priest.  

In her zeal to educate the local people about AIDS, and in chastising the local fetish priest for following the practice of keeping these trokosi, Grace has made some enemies among the locals.  One of these enemies is the fetish priest, Togbe Adzima.  Grace may also have angered local healer Isaac Kuto.  And young Samuel Boateng had a crush on Grace, and may have killed her out of anger at her rejection.

Local inspector Fiti suspects only ne'er-do-well Samuel, but Darko chooses to investigate more thoroughly.  Darko is aided in his investigation by his special talent of understanding people's true natures by listening to the quality of their voice.  But the case proves to be very challenging, as he is drawn in by the village's secrets, and secrets held by his own family, and he comes face to face with the clash between traditional and modern Ghana.

I am not always a fan of crime fiction, but I find a well-written mystery very satisfying.  And this is just such a satisfying read.  Darko Dawson is a fascinating and complex character, and very relatable.  The writer really lets us get inside his detective's head, and we get to fully explore his strengths and weaknesses.  He is a conflicted man, and a wonderfully flawed hero.  And it is very interesting to watch him struggle not only with his inner conflicts, but with the contradictions between traditional and modern life in Ghana.  

I also love the atmosphere that author Quartey creates in the book.  His portraits of both urban and rural Ghana are very rich and I was very happy to immerse myself in Ghanaian society, customs, and culture.  Though many have compared this book to those in Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series, I would say that the books are not really alike.  Like McCall Smith, Quartey does a wonderful job evoking a time and place, and his descriptions of Ghana sing, as do McCall Smith's of Botswana.  But Quartey's book has a much harder edge than the Ladies Detective Agency books, and his murder mystery is a stronger, more plot-driven story.  

I enjoyed how the murdery mystery is woven with a tale of a family's tangled emotional web, and I found the characters memorable and the story engrossing.  And I loved reading about the culture and practices of Ghana.  I'll be on the lookout for more from Kwei Quartey about his flawed yet appealing detective hero, Darko Dawson.

Visit Kwei Quartey's really great website, and read his blog.

More stops for Wife of the Gods on TLC Book Tours.

Watch the book trailer:


Iliana said...

Ooh this sounds very good. I do like the McCall Smith books but I think of those as pretty cozy reads and this one does sound a bit more gritty. One more for the ever-growing list :)

trish said...

I've heard more people say this book should *not* be compared to The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books that I'm actually interested in reading both now. :) Thank you for your very thoughtful review!

Gentle Reader said...

iliana--I would say that this book has just as much really interesting African atmosphere as the McCall Smith books, but much more plot. It's grittier, and also more story-driven. One of the things I love about McCall Smith's books is their near plotlessness, but if you're looking for a real mystery, Quartey's book delivers.

trish--I think people equate the two writers merely because of the settings, but they are very different. However, like I said above, both writers are really good at immersing the reader in African culture. I love books that are so transporting!

litlove said...

You do write a lovely review, Gentle Reader! I would never have picked this book up before, but I might now!

Gentle Reader said...

litlove--aw, thanks!