The Missing American

The Missing American

by Kwei Quartey


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Accra private investigator Emma Djan's first missing persons case will lead her to the darkest depths of the email scams and fetish priests in Ghana, the world's Internet capital.

When her dreams of rising through the Accra police ranks like her late father crash around her, 26-year-old Emma Djan is unsure what will become of her career. Through a sympathetic former colleague, Emma gets an interview with a private detective agency that takes on cases of missing persons, theft, and infidelity. It’s not the future she imagined, but it’s her best option.

Meanwhile, Gordon Tilson, a middle-aged widower in Washington, DC, has found solace in an online community after his wife’s passing. Through the support group, he’s even met a young Ghanaian widow he’s come to care about. When her sister gets into a car accident, he sends her thousands of dollars to cover the hospital bill—to the horror of his only son, Derek. Then Gordon decides to surprise his new love by paying her a visit—and disappears. Fearing for his father’s life, Derek follows him across the world to Ghana, Internet capital of the world, where he and Emma will find themselves deep in a world of sakawa scams, fetish priests, and those willing to kill to protect their secrets.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly


At the start of this solid series launch from Quartey (the Darko Dawson series), a sniper assassinates Bernard Evans-Aidoo, a Ghanaian presidential candidate campaigning on an anti-corruption platform. Meanwhile, the hopes of 26-year-old Emma Djan, a detective constable in Accra, to become a homicide detective like her late father are dashed after she resists the advances of the sleazy commissioner of police, who offered her a transfer to the murder squad in return for sex; the commissioner then has her fired on trumped up charges. After doing some other work, Emma leaps at the opportunity to join a PI firm, which involves her in a complex missing person’s case. American Gordon Tilson, a lonely widower, was lured to Ghana by Helena, an online scam artist who pretended to be interested in him romantically and accepted thousands from him to pay her sister’s supposed medical bills. Soon after Tilson decided to try to seek justice, he disappeared. Quartey keeps readers guessing as to whether and how the political murder is linked to the Tilson case. Readers will welcome Emma into the ranks of capable female detectives. Agent: Marly Rusoff, Marly Rusoff Literary. (Jan.)

From the Publisher

An NPR Favorite Book of 2020
A Washington Post Best Thriller and Mystery Book of 2020
Amazon Best Book of the Month in Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

Praise for The Missing American

“A lonely widower from Washington, D.C., goes missing in Ghana after he’s duped in a trans-Atlantic love scam blessed by an influential fetish priest. Emma Djan, a 26-year-old newbie private investigator in Accra, immerses herself in the world of sakawa Internet fraud and finds that it reaches the upper echelons of power in the West African country, putting her in mortal danger. The Missing American is a mystery and thriller that kept me spellbound – and rooting for Emma.”

“Remarkably rare . . . a gem of a debut.” 
The Washington Post

“The adventures of a tenacious African female sleuth will likely ring bells for fans of Alexander McCall Smith’s best-selling Mma. Precious Ramotswe mysteries. The Missing American’s unflinching portrayal of Ghanaian criminals, their fetish priest handlers and corruption at the highest levels makes this intriguing debut a more bracing antidote to its cozier cousin.”
Los Angeles Times

“An evocative new series.” 
The Seattle Times

“A suspenseful, atmospheric novel of desperation, corruption and murder.” 
Minneapolis Star Tribune

“In The Missing American, Quartey explores the phenomenon of Sakawa, an internet fraud that incorporates religious practices and superstition . . . [he] keeps the action quiet as he poignantly relies more on what motivates people, looking at both the scammers and their victims, and Ghana’s political arena . . . Should be the start of another long-running series for Quartey.”
Oline Cogdill, The South Florida Sun Sentinel

“An engrossing race through the mean streets of Accra and beyond. Colloquial language, local sights and sounds, the food and culture create a vivid backdrop to the disappearance and the investigation.”
Sunday Times (South Africa)

“Mr. Quartey combines African internet scams, a menacing juju priest and political corruption with a cast of unforgettable characters, led by the formidable young Emma, who could easily become my favorite new detective. The sounds, sights, troubles and aspirations of modern-day Ghana are revealed with an unsparing eye and an understanding heart.” 
—Michael Sears, Edgar Award–winning author of the Jason Stafford series

“In this twisty page-turner featuring an appealing new protagonist, Kwei Quartey delves into the dark domain of the Ghanaian internet fraudsters. The 'sakawa boys' play their victims like game fish, but they are only part of a vicious web of corruption and witchcraft that reaches all the way to the top. Rich with the colors of Ghana, this is great Sunshine Noir.” 
—Michael Stanley, author of the award–winning Detective Kubu novels 

The Missing American is diabolically plotted and elegantly written. An atmospheric, heart-pounding mystery that just may be Quartey’s best—and that’s saying a lot.”
—Stephen Mack Jones, Nero Prize and Hammett Award–winning author of the August Snow thrillers

Sakawa scams abound, overlaid with a witch doctor (or two) and a trio of likable, if occasionally gullible, protagonists. My prediction: We will be seeing Emma Djan again.”

“Appealingly complex . . . You’ll want to be an early adopter of this series everyone is sure to be talking about.”

“[A] gripping series opener.”
—Stop, You're Killing Me!

“An excellent police procedural series.”
Reviewing the Evidence

“Armchair detectives, this one’s for you. Kwei Quartey’s new series transports readers to Accra, Ghana to follow a young detective just starting to make a name for herself . . . This mystery will keep you guessing until the final pages.”

“Fans of Quartey’s Darko Dawson series ready for another armchair visit to Ghana will be pleased to meet Emma Djan, introduced here in the same riveting blend of mystery and literary travel guide. After a horrifying #MeToo moment brings an abrupt end to Emma's police career, she is taken on by a private detective agency . . . There is an amazing force to be reckoned with behind [Emma's] veil of politeness, and readers will want to hear more from Emma.”
Booklist, Starred Review

“Quartey’s writing is visceral, with lush descriptions of the scenes as well as his (large) cast of characters . . . This promising series debut from the acclaimed Quartey ("Darko Dawson" mysteries) introduces the formidable Emma, and most important, the culture and politics of Ghana.”
Library Journal

“Notable for its Ghanaian atmosphere and its densely imagined criminal web in which every point is connected to every other.”
Kirkus Reviews

“[A] solid series launch . . . Readers will welcome Emma into the ranks of capable female detectives.” 
Publishers Weekly

“An eye opening read that will long be remembered.”
—Fresh Fiction

“[A] superb sense of place . . . Readers can feel as though they’re actually in Ghana while they read; the landscape, weather, people, food, and culture give the story a richness that I find irresistible.” 
—Kittling Books

“A fast-paced, exciting tale of email scams, missing persons, and fetish priests in the world’s internet capital—Ghana. If you’re old enough to remember Murder, She Wrote, you’ll probably love this fresh take on a tenacious female detective who will stop at nothing to uncover the truth.”
—Dango Books

Praise for Kwei Quartey

“A sensitive novel of powerful family passions, set in the unique and vivid colors of Ghana.”
—Anne Perry

“Quartey provides such a strong sense of Ghana that you’ll be wishing for a platter of kenkey, a staple food made from fermented corn, to keep you from biting your nails to the quick.”

“An absolute gem . . . Undoubtedly will be compared with Alexander McCall Smith’s phenomenally successful No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.”
Los Angeles Times 

“[Quartey] renders a compelling cast of characters inhabiting a world precariously perched between old and new . . . Intriguing.”
Booklist, Starred Review

Library Journal


In Accra, Ghana's capitol, Emma Djan has wanted to be a homicide detective since she was a small child visiting her father at his police station. Upon entering the police force, she gets stuck in a tedious and unimportant department with no hopes of promotion. She ends up leaving in disgrace to find a more exciting position in a private detective agency. Her first case is steeped in political intrigue—locate Gordon Tilson, a missing American man who was investigating internet scams being run by groups known as sakwa boys. Emma must untangle the web of sex, lies, and deceit in the political and police systems in order to find the missing American. Quartey's writing is visceral, with lush descriptions of the scenes as well as his (large) cast of characters. VERDICT This promising series debut from the acclaimed Quartey ("Darko Dawson" mysteries) introduces the formidable Emma, and most important, the culture and politics of Ghana. Recommended for readers of mystery, African American and African fiction, and international crime/mystery. [See Prepub Alert, 7/8/19.]—Jennifer Funk, McKendree Univ. Lib., Lebanon, IL

Kirkus Reviews

The author who followed Accra's Chief Inspector Darko Dawson through five cases (Death by His Grace, 2017, etc.) debuts a new series heroine, a female investigator too principled for the Ghana Police Service.

It takes a long time for Gordon Tilson to disappear. First the D.C. widower forms a romantic attachment to his Facebook friend Helena Barfour; then he sends her gifts totaling $4,000 after her sister is injured in a traumatic accident; then he impulsively flies to Accra to see how he can help her in person; then he realizes she doesn't exist and he's been scammed; then, egged on by his journalist friend Casper Guttenberg, he overrules his original impulse to slink back home and decides instead to stay and investigate; and finally, six weeks after his arrival, he vanishes. His son, Derek, who disapproved of everything from Helena to the trip, follows him to Accra, where he hires private detective Yemo Sowah to find out what's become of his father. Sowah has recently taken on a new operative, Emma Djan, who was bounced from the police force after she refused the aggressive advances of Commissioner Alex Andoh, the director-general of the CID. But Andoh is only the tip of an iceberg of corruption that would cover all of Ghana if it weren't for the tropical weather. The web of deception also includes Nii Kwei, who's tossed aside his degree in political science to become a sakawa boy, making his living through online scams; DI Doris Damptey, the eminently bribable officer who arrests Nii and turns him loose moments later; Godfather, the shadowy head of the sakawa empire; whoever ordered the assassination of presidential candidate Bernard Evans-Aidoo; and several other high-placed citizens whose identities will surprise only Emma.

Notable for its Ghanaian atmosphere and its densely imagined criminal web in which every point is connected to every other.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781641292122
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 12/08/2020
Series: An Emma Djan Investigation , #1
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 103,646
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.40(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

January 4, Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana
Lying flat with the stock of the long-range rifle pressed firmly against his shoulder, the assassin positioned himself on the gable roof of the UT Bank building off Shippers Council Road. His legs were stretched straight out in a V on either side of the roof’s ridge. He would have preferred a flat surface, but the advantages of this location easily outweighed any drawbacks. From this angle, he had an unobstructed view of the road through the Zeiss scope.

     He waited. When the moment arrived, he would place the pad of his right index finger on the trigger rather than the crease between the first and second joints. That could result in a sideways torque on squeezing the trigger. So too could wrapping the thumb around the buttstock. Leave the thumb on the stock pointing forward toward the end of the barrel—that was what he had learned in his first days as an officer in the Ghana Police Service’s SWAT Panther Unit. Now, two years later, he was one of the best marksmen among his peers. Unfortunately, GPS talk was cheap, and they never put their money where their mouth was. Only the sniper’s freelance work, like this assignment, bought him the good life—a nice car, good clothes, new furniture. And women, of course.

• • •
Political rallies in Ghana are a serious business. There’s blaring music, dancing troupes, and handkerchief-waving groups of women in matching outfits. Gangs of ferocious biker youths careen erratically through the streets, sometimes colliding with cars and each other, but these excitable young men, their bodies soused with adrenaline, leap right back up and keep riding.
     So it was for Bernard Evans-Aidoo campaigning in the city of Sekondi-Takoradi against incumbent President Bannerman. Big, charismatic, and dressed flamboyantly in his signature red, black, white, and green—the colors of the National Democratic Congress party, the NDC. Evans-Aidoo stood out of the sunroof of his black Benz and waved to the thrilled crowds lining Shippers Council Road. A full brass band, rocking and high-stepping in rhythmic unison, preceded the slow-moving vehicle, and behind the car was a bunch of random kids and teenagers whirling and jumping up and down with unspecified exuberance. Every so often, the Benz paused and Evans-Aidoo got out with surprising agility to press palms with his fans. He saw the worshipping, idolizing expression in their eyes as they stretched out their hands to be blessed by his touch.
     It was the candidate’s third stop for the day: Axim, Tarkwa, and now Sekondi-Takoradi. There had been the inevitable delays at the two prior rallies and Evans-Aidoo and the entourage were late. Even though they had started the parade before dusk, darkness had descended quickly around 6 p.m., as it always does at the equator. But that was no impediment. The campaign had a vehicle with a generator and bright lights that traveled at the head of the procession, sharply spotlighting the popular man who had set the youth on fire with his promises. He had pledged first, to sack every single corrupt official in the Bannerman government; second, to shunt away some of Ghana’s petroleum and natural gas revenue into programs that would benefit ordinary men and women, particularly the largely unemployed youth. It was a classic taking from the rich to give to the poor. These young people, so hungry for a livelihood, truly loved Evans-Aidoo, and they had waited for him for hours in the ferocious sun. Now he was here, and he didn’t disappoint as he put on this dazzling show. He was larger than life physically and symbolically.
     The cacophony from the cheering crowds, the band, and the noisy mobile generator prevented anyone from hearing a distinct gunshot. Evans-Aidoo’s body dropped so suddenly from view that few people grasped that anything was wrong.
     But inside the Benz, terror unfolded. Evans-Aidoo had collapsed like a sack of yams into the lap of his campaign manager, who let out a high-pitched scream as the minister’s blood sprayed her and the tan leather seats. The bodyguard in the front scrambled into the back seat to shield his boss. The chauffeur craned to look behind. “What happened? What happened?”
      “Drive forward!” the bodyguard shouted. “Drive!”
     The Benz shot forward and crossed the street’s center line. Tires squealing, it skirted the generator vehicle and kept going. People at the roadside were screaming, but it was not jubilation anymore. It was panic. Something bad had happened, but no one knew exactly what.
     The manager in the Benz was shrieking, her head turned away from the sight of Evans-Aidoo limp and half wedged behind the passenger seat. The bodyguard tried to lift his boss’s head, but it was slick with blood and brain matter and it slipped from his hands.
     Hyperventilating and gripping the steering wheel like death itself, the chauffeur said, “Where? Where?”
      “Takoradi Hospital,” the bodyguard stammered. He was close to weeping. “Hurry!”
January 3, Accra, Ghana
With darkened windows, sirens going, and small flags of Ghana flapping on their hoods, three shiny, black SUVs raced along Independence Avenue. Ordinary mortals on the street knew the drill and pulled their vehicles to the side to give the VIP free passage.
     In this case, the dignitary taking precedence over the plebes of Accra was the Inspector General of Police, James Akrofi, who was in the back seat of the middle vehicle. He didn’t look up from his work as he made last-minute changes to the draft of his Ghana Police Service Report to the Blue-Ribbon Commission on the Eradication of Corruption in Ghana. It was a mouthful, but before President J. K. Bannerman had been elected to power almost four years ago by an overwhelming majority of Ghanaian voters, he had campaigned consistently on that one bedeviling issue: corruption. Tapping into a lurking sense among Ghana’s citizens that the nation was slipping backward like a truck mired in muck, Bannerman had persuaded Ghanaians that corruption was standing in the way of every individual’s development and prosperity. “Ghana fails when corruption prevails,” his albeit clumsy slogan, had caught on. Bannerman had promised the nation a new era of The Clean and Enlightened Society. The people reached out to him with the fervor of a parched man in the Sahara yearning for an oasis.
     To be honest, like the engine of an antique car, the anti-corruption machine had been slow to start. Now, as Bannerman’s first term was ending and the political parties were revving up for the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections at the end of the year, the president’s track record had been spotty—some even said too little, too late. There was some truth to the characterization that implementation was not Bannerman’s strong suit and that he was more of an idealist than a pragmatist. Privately, Akrofi thought the truth was somewhere in the middle. The bottom line was that Bannerman was now vulnerable to one man: Bernard Evans-Aidoo.

• • •
The SUV convoy swept through the gates of Jubilee House and sped across the vast square toward the presidential palace, which was built in the shape of the golden stool of the Asantehene. The Office of the President was expecting Akrofi, so from the Palace entrance to the final security door of President Bannerman’s inner sanctum, passage was quick and all the checkpoints along the way essentially a formality. Everyone knew who the IGP was: one of Bannerman’s closest friends and advisors.
     Mr. President, 63, had a stern but avuncular demeanor, his charcoal ash hair suggesting wisdom. He strode forward, hand outstretched. “James! Ete sen?
      “Nyame adom, J. K.,” Akrofi said, grasping the hand with a firm, enthusiastic grip. Their eyes met and held, a testament to the strong bond between them.
      “Good to see you, good to see you,” Bannerman said. “Come, let’s sit down.”
     Akrofi followed the president several meters across the crimson carpet with Ghana’s coat of arms in the center. They had a 360-degree view of Accra through the tinted, floor-to-ceiling bulletproof glass, the cost of which had no doubt contributed to the bloated $50 million cost of the palace. But Akrofi didn’t find that necessarily bad. In what country was it not fashionable to complain about the extravagant residences of the ruling class?
     Out of respect, Akrofi waited for the leader of the nation to sit down before he did. “How are dear Josephine and the children?” Bannerman asked, turning his body halfway toward his friend.
      “Everybody is doing well, by His Grace, thank you,” Akrofi said. “Josephine is in DC at the moment winning friends and influencing people, so to speak, and then she will be in England to see Kwame.”
     Bannerman’s expression softened. “How is he doing these days?”
     Akrofi lowered his gaze with a touch of sadness. “You know. He has his good and bad days.”
      “Yes, of course. I have faith that one day he will be well by God’s grace.”
      “Thank you, J. K. I appreciate your good wishes.”
      “You are always welcome,” Bannerman said. “So, let’s see what you have for me.” Akrofi handed him the folder with the report and the president read it through once.
      “Outstanding,” he said at length. “This is simply first class and I like your four-part plan to eliminate corruption at the top. I think you’ve done a lot to change the culture of middle management and the junior officers, but now it’s time to target the upper echelons.”
      “You have my sincere word I will endeavor to do so,” Akrofi said. “I admire what you are trying to do for the country.”
     He and Bannerman had been in law school together, and high school and college before that. Akrofi had heavily supported his friend’s presidential campaign and Bannerman had promised him the IGP post in return. One didn’t rise to that position. It was a civilian appointment made entirely at the president’s wishes.
     Bannerman rose to place the documents on his rosewood desk imported from Italy, and then turned to the view from the southwest window. Accra’s afternoon traffic was as clogged as bad plumbing. From here, one could just see the roof of the Ghana Police Service headquarters. On the other side of the double-lane Ring Road East, several embassies nestled among the trees.
     Akrofi came to stand beside the president.
      “You and I are cut from the same cloth,” Bannerman said quietly. “So, you understand how much I want this. Obviously, I can’t abolish corruption completely, but I want Ghanaians to come to regard it in a different way—as a kind of cancer that has metastasized to all parts of society. Now it must be surgically removed everywhere it is found. Then things will begin to change.”
     Akrofi nodded. “I do understand.”
      “We will drum anti-corruption into the Ghanaian psyche,” Bannerman said. “Billboards, radio, TV, social media. I’ll have rappers and football players endorse the plan. With their help, I’ll create a new consciousness.” He looked at Akrofi. “We are warriors against a worthy foe, but together, we can vanquish.”
      “By ‘worthy foe’ you mean corruption? Or Evans-Aidoo?”       
      “Corruption. Evans-Aidoo can’t sustain his position in the polls. This business about him redistributing oil wealth to the citizens is nonsense. We are not Norway.”
      “No country is—except Norway,” Akrofi said with a wry smile. “I’m a little concerned about him though, because his followers believe him and there are more and more of them every day. It’s all false hope, for sure, but the nature of people is that they cling to that.”
     Akrofi waited for his friend to respond. Instead, Bannerman turned away with his head down and hands thrust deeply in his pockets. Akrofi had an awful foreboding that if Bernard Evans-Aidoo wasn’t stopped, Bannerman’s presidency would be over.

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