Cover image of "Wife of the Gods," an explosive detective novel set in Ghana

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

The West African nation of Ghana boasts one of the continent’s most vibrant economies. Many of the 2.5 million people who live in and around the capital city of Accra enjoy a comfortable existence. Thousands work in modern high-rise buildings with air conditioning and other conveniences we in the West take for granted. But in the interior, life for most Ghanaians goes on, little changed for centuries. And some of the country’s ugliest traditions enter the foreground in Kwei Quartey’s explosive detective novel, Wife of the Gods. It’s an unvarnished portrait of the country’s interior that few Americans ever encounter.

Who killed Gladys Mensah?

Detective Inspector Darko Dawson of the Criminal Investigations Department of the Ghana Police Service in Accra is dispatched to the Volta River Region to investigate the murder of a popular young woman. Gladys Mensah’s body turned up in a forest near the village of Bedome. There are no outward signs of violence, and the people of the area are divided about the cause of her death. Many believe she was killed with witchcraft. But the police in the nearby town of Ketanu arrest a poor young man named Samuel Boateng. Inspector Dawson suspects others with more obvious motives to kill Gladys. And conflict soon flares into the open between him and Inspector Fiti of the Ketanu constabulary.

Wife of the Gods (Darko Dawson #1) by Kwei Quartey (2009) 338 pages ★★★★★

Image of traditional dancers in rural Ghana, where this explosive detective novel is set
Ewe dancers in traditional dress in Ghana’s Volta Region.

Suspects galore in this explosive detective novel

Wife of the Gods is a whodunit, and a clever and notably suspenseful one at that. But what is most distinctive about the novel is the way Quartey introduces us to the culture, cuisine, and traditional beliefs of the Ewe-speaking people who populate Ghana’s Volta River Region. One of Dawson’s chief suspects is Togbe Adzima, an aging fetish priest who lives with three younger wives granted to him as slaves through the outlawed practice of “trokosi.” Another suspect is Isaac Kutu, an herbal healer local people turn to as their doctor.

Gladys Mensah had tangled with both men. She was a third-year medical student and a volunteer with the Ghana Health Service engaged in outreach to the region to address the AIDS epidemic. Kutu thought her interest in his herbal remedies meant she was stealing his secrets to sell them in Accra. And Adzima had reacted violently when she denounced the trokosi system and attempted to administer AIDS tests to his wives. Complicating matters further is the villagers’ deep-seated belief in witchcraft, which leads them to accuse Gladys’ Aunt Elizabeth of killing her through the practice.

Nighttime in Accra. Image: Umaizi

A brilliant detective with a terrible temper

Inspector Dawson is a complex character with a volcanic temper. He is happily married and has a six-year-old son with a congenital condition popularly described as “a hole in the heart.” Dawson’s sleep is often interrupted with nightmares about the mysterious disappearance of his mother many years earlier on a visit to Bedome, where he still has family. On the job, he has distinguished himself as an insightful homicide detective but has clashed with his bosses for taking on powerful interests they wished to avoid. And more than once Dawson’s temper will jeopardize his investigation.

About the author

Image of Kwei Quartey, author of this explosive detective novel
Kwei Quartey. Image: GhanaWeb

Kwei Quartey was born in Accra to a Ghanaian father and an African-American mother. Now a retired physician in California, he has published six novels in the Darko Dawson series and two in a newer series featuring a Ghanaian private detective, Emma Djan. Wife of the Gods was his first novel and remains his best known to date.

For related reading

I’ve reviewed the first three books in Kwei Quartey’s Emma Djan series and the second and third books in the Darko Dawson series:

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