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by Kwei Quartey
Soho Crime, April 2016
368 pages
ISBN: 1616956305

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It's not good news for Darko Dawson, recently promoted to Chief Inspector in the Accra police force, when he is given a new assignment. Since a supervisor of the police force in Obuasi has died suddenly, Dawson will serve as his replacement for a year. Obuasi is far from Dawson's family home in Accra but uncomfortably close to property owned by his difficult mother-in-law. Uprooting his family to spend a year in a remote part of the country is an unwelcome development, but a decision has been made by someone high up in the government and he has no choice but to go ahead and prepare a new home for his wife and two sons even though the roads are nearly impassible and the property his mother-in-law offers him is far from inhabitable. To add to his troubles, the police station is in disarray, with the records of incomplete criminal investigations scattered around the office and staff unused to following regulations.

But there's no time to settle in. A Chinese immigrant has been found buried in his own gold mine. Gold has always drawn colonists to this part of West Africa, and government corruption has made it easy for foreigners to establish illegal mining operations using local labor. These mines, many run by Chinese entrepreneurs, are destroying the local land and water and bring both cash and conflict to the community. Dawson must fight indifference and corruption as he brings his high standards and professional insight to a tricky investigation. His work is paralleled by a woman who is documenting the effects of illegal gold mining on film for The Guardian, stirring up resentment in the process.

As in previous entries in this series, Quartey provides readers with a realistic view of contemporary Ghana through the eyes of an appealing hero, a detective who refuses to cut corners or compromise on his professional ethics. The author mixes gentle humor with insight into the stresses and challenges of life in a country that has been shaped by colonial greed and continues to be exploited. He's not the first crime fiction author to explore the impact of Chinese investment in Africa Henning Mankell made it a focus of his 2008 novel, THE MAN FROM BEIJING; more recently Michael Stanley explored Chinese and American mining enterprises in his Botswana-based novel, A DEATH IN THE FAMILY. Quartey goes further in focusing on the immediate effects of gold mining on the land and local culture, with small-scale Chinese entrepreneurs eager to find their fortune and return home wealthy while clashing with the workers they depend on.

At the same time, Quartey's sympathetic depiction of daily life adds depth and avoids making the setting exotic or ominous. Readers can enjoy visiting a place that is too often overlooked in Western media, getting an intimate view of a particular part of Ghana in the company of an appealing protagonist who is doggedly pursuing an absorbing and well-plotted mystery.

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, March 2016

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