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children of the street

23 may 2013

Darko Dawson first appeared in Kwei Quartey's 2009 novel Wife of the Gods: a mildly buzzed though quick to anger motorcycle-riding Ghanian detective inspector with a chronically-ill kid and some sinister family secrets long-buried in a remote village.

Those family secrets literally become history in Wife of the Gods, so in Children of the Street, the second Dawson novel, we see him back in his Accra bailiwick, trying to find a serial killer who preys on the title characters. One corpse shows up more horribly mutilated than the next, and Dawson soon realizes he's in a race against time: that the children he meets in the course of his investigation are all now potential victims.

The murderer is well-concealed; red herrings abound. But like many a Krimi, Children of the Street is more than just a puzzle for mystery buffs. It's also a state-of-Ghana novel, its impressive research documented in acknowledgments. While entertaining, Quartey draws the readers attention to the dynamics that draw workers from the country to the capital (and not just in Ghana but throughout the developing world).

Quartey's Accra is not altogether a place of poverty. In fact, it's because it's a rich place that it attracts poor migrants; one theme in the novel is the sheer amount of stuff that circulates in its various economies. But it's a place of disparate (and desperate) contrasts, a place where a secondary economy, made up largely of hustling children, feeds off the wealth of a glistening urban capital.

No fewer than four of the eight blurbs in the 2011 trade paperback edition of Children of the Street insist that if you love Alexander McCall Smith, you'll love Kwei Quartey. This seems one of those pro forma groupings that I like to notice: I suspect that readers who love Smith are going to be appalled by the violence and darkness of Quartey's novels. But heck, they're both set on the same continent, if about 4,500 miles and countless languages and cultures apart; and a bookseller must have some kind of hook.

Quartey, Kwei. Children of the Street. New York: Random House, 2011.