“To all those who dare to care” is the dedication in the newest novel by Pasadena author Kwei Quartey. Children of the Street has just been released in paperback. It’s a book unlike any you have read, unless you are already a fan of his first detective tale, Wife of the Gods.
Both books are set in Accra, Ghana, the West African nation Americans may recognize for its horrific past as a slave source. As critical as its historic position remains, Ghana is also a fascinating, increasingly cosmopolitan presence. Its capital city Accra is a living, breathing creature sloughing off its provincial skin. Modernization in the forms of constant construction, international investment, and potential offshore oil reserves drives its metamorphosis. Kwei Quartey examines these elements with an insider’s eye. You see, he is a physician who was raised in Accra through his adolescence, the son of a Ghanaian father and an African-American mother. His authorial voice blends his African self with his American self. And overlaying both is his discernment of the frequent intersections of medicine and human nature.
Inspector Darko Dawson is the protagonist of these books. His first name is an anglicized version of “Daaku.” Dawson is a husband, the father of a chronically ill boy, an honest guy working in an often-corrupt environment. He is also gripped by dark demons. It’s Dawson’s internal struggles that endear him to us. In the current book he is pursuing the killer of near-anonymous street teens, those ever-present hawkers and cart-pushers seen on Liberation Road or Independence Avenue. When the corpse of 17-year-old Musa turns up in a filthy lagoon, Darko Dawson take the case. Accra’s many faces glower and evade and occasionally shine as the detective seeks answers from every source.
Because Accra is such a complex city, Dr. Quartey sees it as the perfect setting for crime stories. His third book, Men of the Rig, about the burgeoning oil industry, is due in 2012. His research visits to Ghana are chronicled on his website. Of particular interest is a school called Street Academy. Dr. Quartey formed a connection here and presently underwrites the education of one of its students. Ghana may seem a world away to us in California. Yet if we can dare to care, we too can connect. These books are a wonderful invitation to do just that.
Kwei Quartey joins a Barnes & Noble panel called “Deceit and Intrigue in Foreign Settings,” at the Westside Pavilion at 2 p.m. on Sunday, August 21.
Jean Gillis is an Altadena resident, teacher, and author of the blog Dating Yourself in Pasadena. Her daughter, Eliza Hooper, is a former teacher at the Street Academy; you’ll find a piece by her about the experience here.