Sometimes reviewers’ quotes on the cover of a book do an great injustice to the novel and to the author. On the back of my copy of Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey, is a comment by The Booklist which suggest Quartey’s novel will be relished by fans of Alexander McCall Smith’s Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency series.
Admittedly Wife of the Gods and the Ladies Detective Agency are both in the crime fiction genre and both are set in Africa. But there the similarity ends. Quartey’s novel is a much darker tale than anything you’d find in the pages of McCall Smith’s novel, reflecting the clash between the new Ghana and its age-old customs.
In Wife of the Gods we meet Inspector Darko Dawson, a detective who is a dedicated family man but something of a thorn in the side of his superiors. When a young female medical student is found murdered in the village of Ketanu, Dawson is despatched to lead the investigation. He’s reluctant to go, not just because it means leaving the wife he adores and his young son but because he has unhappy memories of his last visit – it was in this self same village more than 25 years ago that his mother disappeared without trace while visiting her sister.
Dawson’s cosmopolitan attitudes and stubborn independent personality clash with the superstitious beliefs of the local population in faith healing and a practice in which young girls are offered as trokosi (or Wives of the Gods) to fetish priests. As he tries to penetrate the veil of secrecy in the village in the forest, Dawson also attempts to pick up the threads of his mother’s last days in Ketanu and to re-establish his links to the family members who still live in the village.
This is a highly readable book with some well developed, plausible characters and a strong sense of the setting. The glossary of Ghanaian phrases at the back is particularly helpful in interpreting references to the Adinkra symbols that are used to decorate cloth (these are important clues in the novel) and explaining what Dawson eats during his sojourn in Ketanu.
Wives of the Gods was Quartey’s debut novel. He has since published two more featuring Detective Dawson while still practising medicine at his current home in California. He’s going onto my list as an author I want to keep a closer eye on.