Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey

Darko Dawson is a Detective Inspector living in Accra, the capital city of Ghana.  Though he has the career that he has longed for as a child, a loving wife, and an adorable six-year-old son, Darko is still plagued by questions concerning his mother’s disappearance in her hometown of Ketanu, just over twenty years ago. Darko and his brother visited Ketanu once as children, yet after their mother’s tragic and mysterious disappearance neither of them has ever gone back.   When Gladys Mensah, a young female medical student working to educate the local village women on contraception and AIDS, is murdered and left in a field in Ketanu, Darko must return not only to investigate the shocking crime but to finally face the past that he has been uneasily avoiding.

Darko is uniquely qualified to assist in the investigation since he is the only one on the force able to speak Ewe (pronounced eh-way), the language of his mother’s village. Reluctant to leave his wife and ailing son, Darko nevertheless packs up and relocates temporarily to Ketanu to reconnect with family he has met only once and to oversee the murder investigation. Gladys Mensah, the young medical student found strangled in the fields of Ketanu, had a strong relationship with the women of the community that she served, but as it turns out she was often at odd with the polygamous priests of village as well as the local tribal doctor-a man with whom Darko has troubling past associations.

Already, Wife of the Gods has been compared favorably to Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Detective Agency series, and while I recently acquired a copy of the first book in that series, I have yet to read it, which made it easy for me to immerse myself in Wife of the Gods without having any distracting comparisons rattling around in my head.  I have to say that this book definitely is able to stand on its own as a solid  beginning to an intriguing mystery series. Darko Dawson (I keep wanting to call him Donnie Darko) is an interesting character- complex, flawed and not wholly likable- at least not so that you are completely comfortable with liking him.  He definitely does some things that make you raise your eyebrows, and issues he needs to work on- anger management being chief among them.  You wonder how he manages to keep his job. With a penchant for smoking marijuana that he scores from one of his police informants, and a violent and barely leashed temper, I sometimes questioned his ability to carry out his duties effectively, but at the same time I was drawn in by how much he took an interest in the lives of the people he encountered and his deep need to help the young man who has been, Darko believes, wrongfully accused of Gladys Mensah’s murder.

Supporting the detective story is the wonderful background of the city of Accra and Ketanu where we are able to vividly see the way the the old world customs conflict and struggle to survive the new.  The traditional medicines and remedies are much different than the modern ones, and even the cause of basic diseases are not the same. Quartey is able to weave a lot of the details of the culture in with the narrative and I was very taken with reading about the different foods, vocabulary and opposing modern and traditional medical approaches. A fine balance is drawn between moving the story along and briefly introducing characters who will likely play key roles as the series develops- of course his family, but also with his mentor and his mostly estranged brother.  I think one of the most fascinating things of all will see how Darko will handle the demons that are plaguing him and what choices he will make not only in his career but within his marriage.

Both mysteries, of Darko’s mother and Gladys Mensah, unfolded at a suspenseful pace and I alternately wanted to go back to whichever section I had last been reading to learn more about what was going on.  I enjoyed trying to solve each of the mysteries and I definitely think that if you pay attention you will formulate an uneasy guess at “whodunnit” before it becomes obvious. It’ll be uneasy because, well…you just never know.  I am not much of a series reader- they are just way too complicated for me in trying to determine the order, and waiting around for the new book to come out, etc.  I am so glad that I was able to read the first of this series because I would love to check up on Darko and see how he gets along.

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