Gladys Mensah, a young medical student, is found dead in the forest of the small town of Ketanu in Ghana, and a special request is made for someone from Accra - someone with more experience than the locals - to investigate the case. Darko Dawson is a detective inspector with the Criminal Investigations Department of the Ghana Police Service in Accra, Ghana's capital. His proficiency speaking Ewe gets him assigned to the case. Dawson also has a bit of a history with Ketanu. His aunt and uncle live in Ketanu, but he hasn't seen them for over 20 years, since his mother disappeared while on a trip to visit them.
When Dawson arrives in Ketanu he finds Inspector Fiti, the head of Ketanu police, focused in on a suspect that Dawson thinks is innocent. He also finds a custom where families offer their virgin teenage daughters to fetish priests as trokosi (Wives of the Gods) along with a slew of possible suspects for this murder. Dawson must keep his temper in check and find Gladys' true killer before an innocent man possibly dies at the hands of Inspector Fiti.
WIFE OF THE GODS is Kwei Quartey's debut novel that brings forth some controversial practices in the small towns of Ghana, Quartey's native country. Quartey's protagonist, Darko Dawson, travels to Ketanu and illustrates the sharp contrast that exists among Ghana's people and their beliefs. Even within Dawson's own family there is a rift in beliefs. Dawson's son suffers from a heart defect and is waiting for his parents to be able to afford a surgery he desperately needs. Dawson's mother-in-law wants to take her grandson to a "healer," what some might consider a witch doctor. Through these two extremes, Quartey illustrates the devastation that can occur when neither side is willing to try to understand the validity of the other. As a Westerner, I would tend to believe in the same things that Dawson does. But he's not successful in his attempts to solve his case because he wants to force his own beliefs down the throats of the people of Ketanu without trying to understand why they believe what they do. And the same holds true for those unwilling to see Dawson's beliefs. They would prefer to wrongly convict an innocent person, pass life-threatening diseases, and sacrifice their children rather than understand why others disapprove of their beliefs and practices. And really, what culture doesn't go through this process when it grows, spreads, changes and develops?
The character of Darko Dawson is the epitome of the tragic hero. And his temper is his tragic flaw. While he doesn't do everything right, the reader identifies and empathizes with him. Few of us would be tolerant enough to elude the mistakes he makes because he makes them out of a shear passion to do the right thing.
And of course the most exotic element of Quartey's novel is the setting. Ghana is obviously a land with a rich history that is growing and changing little by little. Quartey illustrates those growing pains through his rich characters but also through the distinctive contrast of their environments. Accra and Ketanu are a short physical distance apart but almost worlds apart in advancement.
WIFE OF THE GODS is truly a trip to another world for most Westerners. Readers will open the cover and escape to a strange new land to make friends with fiction's new detective, Darko Dawson.