–Post by Molly
For October’s International Crime Fiction pic, I’ve chosen Kwei Quartey‘s latest novel, Murder at Cape Three Points. This is Quartey’s third novel to star Detective Inspector Darko Dawson of Accra and his unique mixture of deductive brilliance and synesthesia-based lie detection (his left hand tingles whenever he hears an untruth, making him excellent at interrogations).
As the novel opens, workers on an oil rig off the Ghanaian coast spot a canoe traveling a bit too close to sensitive underwater equipment. Their initial annoyance quickly turns to horror as the contents of the boat become clear. A man and a woman lie dead in the canoe. The woman has been shot, and the man has been both beheaded and shot, his head stuck onto a pole. The occupants turn out to be Charles and Fiona Smith-Aidoo, a wealthy middle-aged couple with as many enemies as friends. When the local police fail to solve the crime in a timely manner, the dead couple’s relatives file a petition to reopen the case, and Detective Inspector Darko Dawson, with his particular mixture of intuition and detection, gets his next assignment.
Dawson accepts the case with reluctance – his son has just had open-heart surgery, and he would much rather stay home during his son’s recovery than travel to the other side of the country. However, after listening to the couple’s heart-broken neice and realizing how badly the local detectives have mishandled the case, Darko sets out to solve the murders with grim determination. As Dawson first begins the investigation, he looks into numerous avenues, including the possibility of a ritualistic killing by a fetish priest. He quickly realizes that the way to a solution requires stepping on a whole lot of toes, particularly in the oil industry. As he delves deeper into government cover-ups and corruption, the question becomes not can he solve the murder, but will he be allowed to solve the murder, and if so, what consequences will the criminals actually face.
Kwei Quartey was raised in Ghana, then moved to the United States as a teenager, and his crime novels thus far have all taken place in Ghana. Quartey travels to Ghana regularly to research his novels, and the smells, sounds, tastes, conflicts, and diversity of Ghana are present throughout the novel. Murder at Cape Three Points highlights the stark contrast between old and new, between the struggle for basic services and the privileges of the wealthy, between the modern medical technology and animist healing practices, and, in particular, between economic development versus environmental protection. In the context of a world still working on cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and where oil companies’ main hope of expansion comes from high-risk deep water drilling, Quartey’s message could not be more timely.