Murder at Cape Three Points, by Kwei Quartey (2014)

Murder at Cape Three PointsThere’s a lot to like about this third entry into the Insp. Darko Dawson series set in Ghana on the west coast of Africa, but holy hannah, there’s plenty that irritated me as well. The book opens when the bodies of a murdered couple are found in a sea-going canoe near an offshore oil rig. On hand to witness the grisly discovery is the couple’s niece, who happens to be a doctor on board the rig. Fiona and Charles Smith-Aidoo are more than aunt and uncle to Sapphire Smith-Aidoo; they practically raised her. When the local police force is unable to crack the case, the doctor uses her considerable influence to get the Criminal Investigation Department to send its best investigator from Accra to “offer assistance.” It’s the last thing Dawson wants to do; his son has just had heart surgery and his wife is furious that he is putting his work ahead of family. He shields her from the consequence his boss hints will result should he decline the request. Off Dawson goes to the coastal town of Takoradi, where he uncovers layer after layer of complex clues, histories, and motives. It seems half the town worshipped the couple and the other half wanted them dead, family ties be damned. This is a straightforward police procedural, with a likeable, flawed protagonist methodically sifting through the evidence and following each possible lead no matter how tenuous. Its exotic setting in Ghana is the most appealing aspect; Quartey, an American doctor born in Ghana, draws on his considerable knowledge of landscape and culture to paint a setting that is lush and vibrant and alive. I love the details – Dawson and his assistant Chikata have never used an umbrella before setting food in the forested landscape of Takoradi. Imagine that! So what’s the problem? In a week when Nobel Prize winner Tim Hunt reveals just how much sexism still exists in scientific research, it was infuriating to read a book in which women play almost no significant role, and instead are reduced to impossibly attractive, head-turning creatures. Even more incredible is the possessive language used: Dawson watches other men turn to look at his lovely wife and thinks with pride, “Sorry, you can’t have her” (p. 5). Quartey describes their lips, their hips, their hair, their hineys – good grief. It was agonizingly hard to overlook this, but I persisted to the end. The book would benefit tremendously from a stronger hand at editing, including the services of a proofreader to catch the minor errors scattered throughout. I won’t be reading the others in the series.
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