Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Review: Wife of the Gods

Summary: Lyrical and captivating, Kwei Quartey’s debut novel brings to life the majesty and charm of Ghana–from the capital city of Accra to a small community where long-buried secrets are about to rise to the surface.

In a shady grove outside the small town of Ketanu, a young woman–a promising med student–has been found dead under suspicious circumstances. Eager to close the case, the local police have arrested a poor, enamored teenage boy and charged him with murder. Needless to say, they are less than thrilled when an outside force arrives from the big city to lead an inquiry into the baffling case.

Detective Inspector Darko Dawson, fluent in Ketanu’s indigenous language, is the right man for the job, but he hates the idea of leaving his loving wife and young son, a plucky kid with a defective heart. Pressured by his cantankerous boss, Dawson agrees to travel to Ketanu, sort through the evidence, and tie up the loose ends as quickly and as efficiently as possible. But for Dawson, this sleepy corner of Ghana is rife with emotional land mines: an estranged relationship with the family he left behind twenty-five years earlier and the painful memory of his own mother’s sudden, inexplicable disappearance. Dawson is armed with remarkable insight and a healthy dose of skepticism, but these gifts, sometimes overshadowed by his mercurial temper, may not be enough to solve this haunting mystery. In Ketanu, he finds that his cosmopolitan sensibilities clash with age-old customs, including a disturbing practice in which teenage girls are offered by their families to fetish priests as trokosi, or Wives of the Gods.

This is a compelling and unique mystery, enriched by an exotic setting and a vivid cast. And Inspector Darko Dawson–dedicated family man, rebel in the office, and ace in the field–is one of the most appealing sleuths to come along in years. -- Random House

I was looking forward to reading WIFE OF THE GODS by Kwei Quartey because I had seen it compared to The Ladies' No. 1 Detective Agency books. I have read all of these mysteries (except for the very last one); and I consider myself a big fan of the series. After reading WIFE OF THE GODS, I suppose I see some similarities because it is a mystery book that takes place in Africa; but I have to say that I think WIFE OF THE GODS definitely has a unique premise and an interesting main character that makes it stand on its own.

WIFE OF THE GODS is first and foremost a mystery book, and I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery angle of the story. A young woman who travels to villages to teach the inhabitants about AIDS is found murdered in the woods. Naturally, there are quite a few possible suspects. I thought Dr. Quartey did a good job of presenting the mystery and unraveling the clues; however, I pretty much figured out who the murderer was well before the end of the book. This didn't affect my enjoyment of the novel one bit because I didn't fully grasp all of the reasons why until I finished the story. Besides the primary mystery of the dead young woman, I also really appreciated how the author incorporated the unresolved disappearance of Darko's mother into this book.

Another thing I liked about WIFE OF THE GODS was learning about the African culture. I thought Dr. Quartey did a wonderful job of describing Ghana and its villages. In addition, I loved how he gave the reader so much insight into Ghanaian medicine -- both the scientific as well as the supernatural/witchcraft element. I found it extremely interesting that people in Ghana tend to use witchcraft to explain the unexplained -- i.e. cancer, early death, etc. And, I have to admit that I was fascinated by the entire concept of the trokosi or "Wife of the Gods." Trokosi are young girls who are handed over to fetish priests by their families as a way to amend for past problems. Evidently, there is a lot of controversy surrounding this practice -- some people think it's a form of slavery; and I thought the author did a good job of representing both sides of this controversial issue.

Probably my favorite thing about this novel was the character of Darko Dawson. Darko was a detective inspector who was sent to Ketanu to investigate the murder. Since Darko's mother was originally from this town, he was already fluent in the language and somewhat familiar with the area. I thought Darko was a terrific character and well-developed -- he was extremely real to me. The author gave a great deal of insight into Darko's past as well as the disappearance of his mother; and I think it really helped to explain the character. I found him to be extremely complex and somewhat dark, and there were times when I wasn't sure if I even liked him. Darko had an extremely bad temper that I felt like he couldn't really control; and I think it was interesting to see the contrasts between the love he had for his family, the dedication he had for his job, and his flawed character traits.

I certainly expect (and hope) that there might be more books involving Darko, his family and his crime solving abilities. I have a feeling that WIFE OF THE GODS is just the first book in what will become a very interesting series. I really look forward to more of Darko because I believe that he is a complex character with many unresolved issues. I think his weaknesses as a man (for violence, marijuana, and possibly women) can provide some terrific material for future books.

Dr. Quartey has a great website devoted to his first novel WIFE OF THE GODS. Not only could I learn more about the author with this interesting Q&A, but I also could read about the country of Ghana. In addition, there are links to his blogs and his speaking engagements. The highlight for me, though, was that I found discussion questions for book clubs to use when they talk about the book. I usually don't think of mysteries as my first choice for a discussion book; however, I think WIFE OF THE GODS would make for a terrific selection. There are many wonderful topics for discussion including the characters' action, the African culture and traditions, the role of women in society, and even the supernatural/magical elements. You can read an excerpt here.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to participate in this book blog tour. Here's a list of all the stops for WIFE OF THE GODS:

Monday, August 3rd: A Novel Menagerie

Tuesday, August 4th: APOOO Books

Wednesday, August 5th: Jen’s Book Thoughts

Thursday, August 6th: Musings of a Bookish Kitty

Friday, August 7th: Beth Fish Reads

Monday, August 10th: My Friend Amy

Wednesday, August 12th: Reading, ‘Riting, and Randomness

Thursday, August 13th: Serendipitous Readings

Friday, August 14th: Linus’s Blanket

Monday, August 17th: Maw Books

Tuesday, August 18th: Bluestalking

Wednesday, August 19th: Booking Mama

Friday, August 21st: She is Too Fond of Books

Monday, August 24th: The Tome Traveller

Wednesday, August 26th: Shelf Life


bermudaonion said...

I love mysteries and books set in other cultures, so I've really been wanting to get hold of this one. I'm so glad you liked it.

Beth F said...

This one is really good (I need to finish it!)

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

Great review Julie! You cover all the bases on what makes this a great story and potential mystery series.

As you know, I really liked this one too. I totally agree that you figure out the murderer but it doesn't matter because you don't know all the reasons why, and it's interesting to watch the rest of the story unfold- see if you don't change your mind and pick someone else as the killer. I remember reading one sentence in particular that got my brain churning. It still stands out for me even though I read it over a month ago now. Great job on the author's part.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Great review! This one sounds really good!

Serena said...

I really like mysteries. This sounds like a book I should be reading.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Julie, what a wonderful, in depth review! I'm so glad you liked it, and even though I don't generally read mysteries I'm very interested in this one after reading the reviews on the tour!

Thanks so much for all the time and effort that went into reading and reviewing Wife of the Gods!

trish said...

You always write such great reviews, Julie! I feel like I know what the book's about without knowing all the plot points. Thanks, Julie!

Anonymous said...

This is the second great review I have read on this book.I might read it once it appears in my lib or my localbookstore.

I am a mystery fan , so I know I am gonna love it.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

This is on my to-read list. I love a good mystery, but I have to say that the setting is what caught my interest with this one.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

I really liked WIFE OF THE GODS, too, and I'm so glad that Kwei Quartey will continue to write about Darko Dawson.

Learning about modern-day Ghana, and the struggle to introduce new concepts in traditional areas was very interesting to me.

Natasha @ Maw Books said...

I think that what I enjoyed most about it as well was the African culture. I probably would have passed it over if it weren't for that.

The Tome Traveller said...

I enjoyed this one, too. Like you, I can see the similarities with LDA. I think it has a grittier feel to it, though. Great review!

S. Krishna said...

Thanks for this review! I think this book sounds really interesting, especially because I want to read more about Africa.