Most people are aware of the existence of scammers working out of impoverished foreign locations, using technology for a nefarious purpose, but it takes a forward-thinking writer such as Kwei Quartey to take readers behind the scenes of these “operations,” exposing the truth in a way that never attempts to justify or legitimize these practices, and yet still manages to elicit understanding and some level of empathy simply by humanizing those on the other side of this equation. It is a dangerous and scary sub-world that works incredibly well as the backdrop for a gripping crime novel set (mainly) in Ghana, Africa.
The Missing American is the launch of a new series for Kwei Quartey. As with his Inspector Darko Dawson Mysteries, Quartey uses his heritage and a love of crime fiction to expose readers to new cultures too-rarely seen in genre fiction. Readers interested in learning something along with following a compelling crime investigation need look no further than this series debut.
The Missing American is a bit of a slow boil mystery, but do not mistake this for poor editing or lack of storytelling finesse. Kwei Quartey spends much longer than most authors would introducing the various players here for a very strategic reason. First there are a number of threads to this novel, requiring quite a few characters. Each of these people play a significant part, so readers must understand who they are and what life is like for them. It really isn’t until about a third of the way into The Missing American that these characters actually begin to interact with each other and by that point, Quartey has ensured that readers are invested in each of them as individuals – making their eventual clashes all the more profound and exciting.
If there is one main character – and really there isn’t – it would be Emma Djan. Since the series is subtitled “An Emma Djan Investigation,” it is clear she is the character at the heart of the ongoing series. Emma dreams of following her father’s footsteps into the Ghana National Police, but the rampant sexism of this culture makes this virtually impossible. Her desire to make a difference eventually leads her to a private investigation agency where her skills prove to be invaluable.
Emma’s first case involves the disappearance of Gordon Tilson, an American who has fallen victim to the scammers mentioned above. In the case of Gordon, it is the Sakawa boys – a particular type of scam the merges Internet fraud with religious practices native to the culture – to whom he falls victim. The practice of Sakawa not only involves the manipulation of innocent people, but often the “fetish priests” who bless the enterprises require payment for their services, to help ensure their success. Unfortunately, this payment is often in the form of sacrifices.
Therein lies the crux of this new novel from Kwei Quartey. This talented author is able to weave in both larger global political concerns and more mundane personal challenges resulting in a robust and fully-realized world in which to set his mini-epic. The Missing American is just the start of what is sure to be a must-read new series.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was obtained at ALA. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.