Monday, 9 January 2012

Devil, Devil - GW Kent (Solomon Islands)

Sergeant Ben Kella of the Solomon Islands Police Force is only a few days into a routine patrol, yet already he has been cursed by a magic man, stumbled across evidence of a cargo cult uprising and failed to find an American anthropologist who has been scouring the mountainous jungle in search of a priceless pornographic icon.

To complicate matters further, at a local mission station Kella discovers the redoubtable Sister Conchita secretly trying to bury a skeleton — then a mysterious gunman tries to kill her.

Kella already has enough problems. Mission-educated yet an aofia, the traditional peacemaker of the islands, reluctantly the sergeant is forced to link up with Sister Conchita, an independent and rebellious young American nun, to track down the perpetrators of a series of bizarre murders. The combination of the witch-doctor policeman and the Praying Mary, set against one of the most beautiful yet dangerous and primitive areas of the South Pacific in 1960, proves combative yet unexpectedly successful.

I would never normally have considered a book such as this, were it not for the fact that I am undertaking this challenge. While it is true that I have read quite a lot of crime fiction during the past few years, most of this has been based in Scandinavian, a part of the world that I am not a lot more familiar with than the South Pacific.

Initially I found this book quite heavy going, and the characters, Kella especially difficult to relate to - I suspect this was because the culture and the way of thinking described in this book is so alien and so different to anything I have encountered before. I persevered though, and by the time I was halfway through the book I was hooked.

Where else would you encounter so many interesting characters and story lines than here - a missing anthropologist, a Melanesian detective with a white Catholic education, a feisty American nun, remote bush tribes and exotic women in grass skirts. Add to the mix, cargo cults, death curses and pornographic icons, and you have a pretty good idea as to what this book is about.

This book, written by a former headmaster and BBC producer, who lived and worked on the islands for 8 years, gives fascinating insights into a unique way of life, and to me at least, made a refreshing change form the city based crime detectives of the north that I am more used to. Devil Devil is the first of what is hoped to be a whole series of books - I look forward with anticipation to the second installment.

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