Sunday, November 13, 2011


One of the reasons that I like to mystery novels is their diversity. Not the same old, same old part where someone is killed that’s a given. I mean the settings.  You can pass through menopause and beyond waiting for contemporary, non-American novelists to be translated into English but because of the insatiable appetite of mystery fans, foreign mystery writers get translated into English more frequently than their fiction writing counterparts. And. If that weren’t enough there are always the mystery books written in English but set in faraway lands. Many is the happy day that a good mystery has fulfilled my need to read about Elsewhere.

The same can be said for historical mysteries. Hilary Mantel is not finished with the sequel to Wolf Hall yet (Hurry up!) so I need to keep occupied. A nice tagalong with a detective before there was such a thing or the court dressmaker who cannot help but solve the murder of Madame Le Somesuch because she is just that smart and nosy can really keep a girl steeped in life as it once was. The lovely bonus is that often a historical mystery is also a mystery set across an ocean from me.

So…that leads me to Devil-Devil by Graeme Kent. A first for me this mystery is set in the Solomon Islands. And! It takes place in the early 1960’s. Could this be a win-win for me? Another new place and time to explore via the troubles of a gumshoe.

Ben Kella was born on the island of Malaita but educated in the Western tradition. He attended Catholic schools, was sent to college in Australia and then worked with the both the London and Manhattan police agencies. He is a man who wears two hats within his community. He is a sergeant in the Islands’ police force and an Aofia. That means that he has the hereditary job of peacekeeper of the Lau people. On the surface it would seem that these jobs could nicely dovetail one another but no. He is straddling two different worlds. Neither the British colonials nor the native islanders trust him or accept him as their own.

Author Kent makes the good decision of having Sergeant Kella already involved in a few cases at the start of Devil-Devil. There is no down time to the main mystery. We are going to learn about this country and this detective all at once. Kella is dealing with the cargo cult (Fascinating!), a kidnapping, smuggling, been cursed by a local shaman and failed to find a missing anthropologist…now onto the main event.   

It is the unearthing of a skeleton brings Sergeant Kella and Sister Conchita of the Marist Mission Sisters together. Conchita is an American nun working on the islands. She, like every nun you have ever read about, has trouble with authority. Surprise. This young missionary has a chore list the sight of which could break your back nevertheless she is going to find the time to help solve some crimes. Conchita is a lively and interesting character but I would have liked her personality to be a little less expected.

The chemistry between Kella and Conchita, the dying days of colonialism, the lingering memories of WWII (Guadalcanal was one of the many battles fought on the Islands.), corruption, the political and social tensions of the times, and the culture of the Solomon Islands all combine in Kent’s hands to become an exotic and interesting backdrop for this mystery novel. The real win here though is Kent’s depiction of Kella. The Sergeant is complex but not in the stereotypical loner with issues, bad relationships and maybe an addiction way. Kella reads as a real product of all that goes on around him. He sees all the shades of gray in his two jobs, has a sense of humor and a strong desire to do the best for his country even when it conflicts with justice.
Devil-Devil is a strong and winning start of a new series that looks like it has a lot of room for more great stories. Not to mention thought-provoking information on an area of the world underrepresented in western fiction.

Book two, One Blood will be released in February 2012. I am looking forward to it!

No comments:

Post a Comment