Country Focus: Ghana
Children of the Street
By Kwei Quartey
Published by Random House, 2011
Time period: Contemporary
When a corpse turns up in a polluted lagoon near one of Accra’s biggest slums, Detective Inspector Darko Dawson of the Criminal Investigations Department Homicide Division is called to the scene. The victim turns out to be a teenage boy, one of over 60,000 homeless street children living in Ghana’s capital. More dead teens turn up, each dumped in a foul location, each uniquely disfigured. With no one to miss them or protect them, they are easy prey…but to who?
Dawson’s investigation leads him to question a mixed bag of Ghanaians: his own ex-drug dealer, the comely director of a children’s shelter, her unsavory webmaster, a violent thug, a wealthy professor of criminology and his grateful manservant. Navigating the slums proves difficult. Hardly any of its residents, including the vulnerable street children, trust the police or wants to talk.
Quartey humanizes and adds dimension to Dawson by saddling him with a predilection for smoking wee (marijuana), and a young son urgently in need of astronomically expensive heart surgery. So westernized is Quartey’s rendering of the Dawsons’ middle class lifestyle that they could be mistaken for Americans living in Ghana.
Children of the Street, the second novel of a planned string of “Inspector Darko Dawson” mysteries, blends an appealing protagonist, an intriguing plot and an exotic locale into an enjoyable and accessible story. Quartey knows how to take the reader far enough away from home to feel introduced to Ghana but not intimidated by it.
The CSU hadn’t arrived yet. Dawson and Chikata looked down at the body. Its head was completely submerged in the mud, and only part of its left side was visible, with the left hand sticking up like a rigid wave good-bye.
“Who found the body?” Dawson asked.
“They did,” Chikata said, nodding toward a group of five men with pickaxes, shovels and buckets. “They were about to start digging the channel out when they saw it. One of them called Joy FM, who broadcast the report on the Super Morning Show. I heard it before I left the house and stopped here on the way to CID.”
The country’s reputed emergency numbers 1-9-1 and 1-9-2 could be so unreliable that it was sometimes more effective to call a radio station, which would then broadcast the emergency in the hope that the appropriate personnel were listening.