Children of the Street by Kwei Quartey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"In the slums of Accra, Ghana’s fast-moving, cosmopolitan capital, teenagers are turning up dead. Inspector Darko Dawson has seen many crimes, but this latest string of murders—in which all the young victims bear a chilling signature—is the most unsettling of his career. Are these heinous acts a form of ritual killing or the work of a lone, cold-blooded monster? With time running out, Dawson embarks on a harrowing journey through the city’s underbelly and confronts the brutal world of the urban poor, where street children are forced to fight for their very survival—and a cunning killer seems just out of reach."
The West African nation of Ghana is the setting for this second entry in Kwei Quartey's signature protagonist Inspector Darko Dawson.
"Children Of The Street" is a meticulous and compelling detective yarn, wherein a series of murders among children of the slums of Accra - Ghana's capital - presents an almost impossible case for the determined Darko Dawson. But the novel transcends the genre by opening the shutters on a nation and a culture that is complex & nuanced, where crushing poverty is a way of life and the chasm between the haves and the have nots is just that - and a yawning one at that. Additionally, Quartey writes for the senses. He encourages us through sight and sound, smell and taste and touch, to enter the world of West Africa and Accra and live it completely. You can truly experience the streets through Quartey's writing. He brings all these denominators into his narrative and plot effortlessly and one finds themselves receiving a valuable education as well as being thoroughly entertained.
I was immediately struck by the challenge Quartey had set for himself in crafting a compelling detective thriller given the geopolitical circumstance in that country. But I also found from Quartey's style an intimate knowledge of Ghana through experience and research. Child homelessness is rife. On doing some further reading, I note that Ghana rates of homelessness among children stand in between sixty to one hundred thousand at any one time. The young converge on the capital - Accra - in search of work, a means of earning an income and a faltering hope that they might be able to pull themselves out of poverty towards a notion of a better life. It is into this potent melting pot that Quartey inserts a malevolent killer, who begins a cold and clinical pattern of murder that incites fear amongst the slums and renders Dawson and his colleagues baffled in the opening pages.
I arrived at this novel having not had the opportunity to read Quartey's "Wife Of The Gods" but I need not have worried as Quartey introduces Dawson comprehensively through thought, action and life. Dawson is a dogged and meticulous investigator, operating in a severely under resourced police department and thus he employs some unique techniques in his pursuit of the killer. He cultivates working relationships across all walks of life in Accra that bear fruit when it counts. Dawson is a loving, compassionate husband and father and it is within the scenes of family and life after hours that we are given a fully rounded view of an attractive and heroic man. Dawson is not without his failings either and Quartey adds a layer to Dawson that reveals a weakness in character that serves only to make Darko Dawson a more interesting protagonist. I did in fact enjoy this aspect of the novel the most.
Quartey's writing style is attractive, well paced and gripping. There are confronting moments within the narrative that are appropriately gut wrenching. Quartey juxtaposes fear and tension beautifully and human interactions are convincing and real. The dialogue had a particularly genuine quality about it which at times was a challenge for me - but I must stress here that it wasn't a failing of the author. Quartey has captured the 'speak of the street' beautifully. Quartey's attention to procedure is an additional stand out - another aspect of the novel that I found extremely satisfying. Whether it be police procedure, the scenes of autopsy or the more nebulous analysis of the psychology of the killer, Quartey handles each of these deftly, working them into the narrative seamlessly, without heaviness.
I left the novel and the world of Accra reluctantly but totally satisfied.
"Children of the Street" represents a considerable achievement for Kwei Quartey who taken the the murder mystery/detective thriller genre in a refreshing direction. It is at once engaging, suspenseful, atmospheric and very human.
I urge all fans of the genre to add "Children of the Street" to your shelves as soon as you can.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kwei Quartey is a physician practicing in the Los Angeles area, but he cites writing as being his first love. At the age eight, he wrote three short novels that he bound with colourful cardboard covers. They were mystery stories, and Quartey has retained his preference for that genre into adulthood. His novel WIFE OF THE GODS is a murder mystery set in Ghana, West Africa. Quartey is able to set his story in that country because he grew up there until his late teens. He is the son of an African American mother and Ghanaian father.
While in medical school and during his training as a physician, Quartey found little to no time to write, but once he began his practice, he was able to return to his very early ambition to be an author. The arc of his career began with a UCLA extension class in creative writing, then about three years of belonging to a writing group. Thereafter, Quartey settled down to writing on his own. One novel, KAMILA, was subsidy published, which gained him no traction in the publishing world.
(Kwei Quartey kindly supplied me with a copy of "Children of the Street" for review).
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