Book 27 Completed
This book was a bit of a mixed-bag for me. But since I’m feeling particularly ornery today, I’m going to force myself to start with the positives instead of launching into my rehearsed lecture about the negatives. (I’ve started to write the reviews in advance as I read — scribbling down things in the margins like: Seriously??! And when I came across the second grossest line related to sex, I was forced to simply write “yuck”. The first grossest, as you’ll remember was the vagina = soup line from Everything is Illuminated. This one just involves the world “milk” — as a verb — which is, I feel, enough said.)
But POSITIVES: This book is exactly what I wanted. Easy to read. Required zero brainpower. I was genuinely curious about the “who-done-it”. And I found myself fully invested in the narrative about Darko’s (the detective) son. I was so connected to that story-line that after a rather huge cliffhanger, I flipped forward 40 pages to find out what happened because I couldn’t wait!!
Also, and more importantly, Quartey said it was important to write about the real Ghana – not a “Ghana-like” Ghana. This book is rich on atmosphere, detailed about the minutiae of life outside of the city — there is fascinating stuff in here about the practices of fetish priests, the hardships with AIDS/HIV awareness, the corruption of the police. The content was really interesting…the idea of the book compelling.
It was just the execution that left me wanting. Just when I started to get sucked into the book as a whole, something would pull me out of the experience. And I really think that has something do with Quartey’s inexperience as a writer.
So, I guess I’m onto the negatives.
To start with, Quartey doesn’t have an ear for dialogue. The conversations between people seem either forced to propel plot (even my hated Scooby-Doo ending, where the killer provides pages of exposition explaining motive). And then there are pointless and laughable pieces of conversation between characters. I was exceptionally annoyed with Darko’s relationship with his wife. All of their conversations seemed really shallow and there was a lot of ridiculous sexual banter which I don’t actually think exists in real marriages.
Take this little phone conversation:“You see? This is why I married you. For your brains.” “Oh, really? What’s wrong with my looks?” They both laughed. “You know what I want right now, don’t you,” Dawson said, lowering his voice. “I have no idea,” she said airily. He groaned. “Christine, I’m dying.” “Focus. Focus. Don’t you men ever get past adolescence?”
Um. Right. There is so much wrong with this. But I’ll save the exercise in writing quality dialogue for a different blog. Bad dialogue can ruin a book!
The other thing that annoyed me was the small flashbacks — in italics — to things that happened earlier in the book. When a clue popped up, Quartey would REMIND me that he had already FORESHADOWED this. When authors do this — and many of them do — I feel like it’s saying they have zero faith in their readers. “Hey, dumb-ass, in case you weren’t paying attention, earlier in the book I tried to give you a clue that this was important. And guess what? It’s important!”
Anyway, I think those two complaints are enough. I also think those annoyances appear in many books, even popular and well-regarded books. Maybe I’m picky. Maybe no one else notices these things. It just made me super sad in this book because there was a lot in there that was GOOD too. I wanted to recommend it highly.
Here’s to hoping Quartey’s writing strengthens and evolves with each Darko mystery. I’m willing to try book two someday; I love the Ghana Quartey writes about. I’m just not willing to call myself a fan at this point. All in all, I needed the break from ruthless non-fiction killing and I do not regret the time invested.