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Darko Dawson, Chief Inspector in the Ghana police service, returns in this atmospheric crime series often compared to Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency novels.
Darko Dawson has just been promoted to Chief Inspector in the Ghana Police Service—the promotion even comes with a (rather modest) salary bump. But he doesn’t have long to celebrate because his new boss is transferring him from Accra, Ghana’s capital, out to remote Obuasi in the Ashanti region, an area now notorious for the illegal exploitation of its gold mines.
When Dawson arrives at the Obuasi headquarters, he finds it in complete disarray. The office is a mess of uncatalogued evidence and cold case files, morale is low, and discipline among officers is lax. On only his second day on the job, the body of a Chinese mine owner is unearthed in his own gold quarry. As Dawson investigates the case, he quickly learns how dangerous it is to pursue justice in this kingdom of illegal gold mines, where the worst offenders have so much money they have no fear of the law.
About the Author
Kwei Quartey was born in Ghana and raised by a black American mother and a Ghanaian father. A practicing physician, he lives and works in Pasadena. He is the author of four other critically acclaimed novels in the Darko Dawson series, Wife of the Gods, Children of the Street, Murder at Cape Three Points, and Death by His Grace. Find him on Twitter @Kwei_Quartey and on his website, kweiquartey.com.
Read an Excerpt
Dark gravel, the gray-and-black color of an aging man’s beard, renders the most gold. One has to dig beyond the water table to reach the coveted ore. As far as Kudzo Gablah’s eye could see, machine-excavated pits and craters disfigured the once lush landscape. Mounds of tawny soil surrounded each scoopedout depression, as if a giant hand had reached inside the earth and turned it inside out.
Short-handled shovel in hand, Kudzo stood in the middle of one of the craters, his old ill-fitting Wellington boots sinking into the soft earth. At the top of the pit, which was more than twice Kudzo’s height of five-eleven, his four fellow galamsey workers joked and jostled with each other, and even though he had yelled at them that they might as well begin work while waiting for the boss to arrive, they were slow to start. At only twenty-four years old, Kudzo was the most experienced and the most senior mine worker, the others barely out of their teens.
He planted his first stab deep into the gravel, enjoying the crisp sound of earth giving way to the sharp blade. He and the other guys would be digging all day. It would be especially grueling without the aid of the hydraulic excavator, which had broken down two days ago. Their Chinese boss, Bao Liu, had said he would come in early this morning to attempt a repair of the vehicle, but he was nowhere to be seen. It was almost 6:30 now, and that was odd because when Mr. Liu said he was going to arrive early, he meant early. Perhaps he or his wife had fallen ill.
Kudzo looked up to see Wei Liu carefully making his way toward them over a narrow muddy crest at the top of one of the pits. About thirty-five, he was Bao’s younger brother, but the two were as unlike as a yam tuber and a thin stalk of sugar cane. Wei was stout, while his older brother was hard and wiry. Bao yelled a lot and insulted people, whereas Wei was quiet and sullen. They knew some English and a little bit of Twi. Between those two languages, they managed to communicate with the Ghanaian workers. Sometimes Kudzo and his friends made fun of the Chinese brothers’ accents and mimicked the sound of Chinese as they perceived it. Kudzo didn’t like Wei, much less his older brother.
“Where Bao?” Wei asked Kudzo abruptly, without even a “good morning.”
“Please, I don’t know,” Kudzo said, thinking, Shouldn’t you know better than me where your brother is? “Maybe he went somewhere.” More specifically, Kudzo was thinking Bao might have gone into the bush to relieve himself, the way everyone did around the mines. “Didn’t he call you?”
“Yeah,” Wei said. “Four twenty this morning.”
Looking worried, Wei left to examine the excavator. Something was jammed in the hydraulic arm attached to the bucket—the huge, clawed scooper shaped like a cupped hand. As far as Kudzo knew, Bao and Wei were supposed to have tried to repair it early this morning, and Bao’s truck was parked in the usual spot.
Kudzo’s companions picked up their shovels and slid down into the pit beside him. Before long, they would be smeared with mud as they worked. The warmth of the morning hinted at the heat that would begin to peak before noon. As fit as the young workers were, they still found the ten working hours physically and mentally punishing. Not everyone could do it. Dropping out after a few weeks was common, especially for city boys. Unable to handle the pace and intensity, they often packed up and left. Sprains and injuries happened all the time, and two drowning incidents had occurred during the last rainy season. All this pain and exertion for what? Sometimes only a few specks of gold after all the ore had been washed at the end of the day. But every once in a while, a dazzling amount of the glittering yellow metal was found, and then it all seemed worth it again.
The boys coordinated smoothly with each other. Kudzo shoveled soft, clayey gravel rapidly into a wide shallow pan, which Gbedema snatched from between his feet and lifted onto Dzigbodi’s head. On his way to the sluice box where Kweku washed the gravel, Dzigbodi would pass Kwame going in the opposite direction to pick up his new load from Kudzo. Throughout the day, they would rotate positions. It was like a dance.
At intervals, they chattered noisily with one another to break the grinding monotony, sometimes making crude jokes at each other’s expense, and at other times shouting encouragement when one of them flagged. They depended on each other to keep going. Occasionally an argument might break out, but it was seldom more than fleeting.
Kudzo glanced up to see Wei on his phone again—not talking, just calling, but then he put it away when apparently no one answered. He was probably trying to get hold of his brother again. Where was Bao?
At the top of the pit on the side where they were working, the earth was a light brown with an orange tinge, in contrast to the gray-and-black beneath it—as if someone had recently dumped soil taken from a different area. Kudzo was sure it had not been that way the day before, and he remarked on it to his friends. They concurred with him but there was no time to give it that much thought, and they soon forgot about Kudzo’s observation.
He might have put the light-colored soil out of his mind had some of it not caved in as the darker gravel was dug away from underneath. Kudzo didn’t want this kind of earth because it was usually poor in gold, so he began pushing it aside with his shovel. The blade struck something dull, relatively soft and immovable. He hit it a couple more times to dislodge it, but it didn’t budge. Now Kudzo saw a dark spot in the light soil. Frowning, he cleared some of the earth away.
“What are you doing?” Kwame shouted in Twi, annoyed at Kudzo’s break in the rhythm.
“Something is here,” Kudzo returned. “I don’t know what it is.”
Kwame joined his partner to help clear away the soil from around the object. The other two boys, curious, came over to watch. Kudzo felt a shiver travel down his back. Something about the object made him uneasy.
Wei, who was on his phone again and had seen them cease work, walked quickly in their direction. “Hey!” he yelled. “What you doing?”
Dzigbodi pointed at what Kudzo and Kwame were unearthing. Wei jumped down into the pit to get a closer look. “Dig more,” he instructed them, as if he were contributing anything new to what they were already doing.
As they saw what it was, Kudzo gave an exclamation of shock. Kwame tried to stand up, but slipped in the mud instead. It was clear now. The object was a human head. Wei grabbed a shovel and began to help scoop the soil away. As the eyes and nose came into view, he let out a cry. Kwame scrabbled out of the pit in fear, but Kudzo wrenched himself out of his paralysis and used his shovel to help Wei pull earth away from the head. Now one shoulder was visible. Wei was weeping and babbling hysterically in Chinese. Kudzo already knew the truth, but it had a dreamlike quality. The dead man buried deep in gold ore was Bao Liu, Wei’s brother.