At Cape Three Points on the beautiful Ghanaian coast, a canoe washes up at an oil rig site. The two bodies in the canoe—who turn out to be a prominent, wealthy, middle-aged married couple—have obviously been murdered; the way Mr. Smith-Aidoo has been gruesomely decapitated suggests the killer was trying to send a specific message—but what, and to whom, is a mystery. The Smith-Aidoos, pillars in their community, are mourned by everyone, but especially by their niece Sapphire, a successful pediatric surgeon in Ghana’s capital, Accra. She is not happy that months have passed since the murder and the rural police have made no headway.
When the Ghanaian federal police finally agree to get involved, Detective Inspector Darko Dawson of the Accra police force is sent out to Cape Three Points to investigate. Pretty as the coast is, he is not happy to be sent away from his wife and two sons, the younger of whom is recovering from a heart operation. And the more he learns about the case, the more convoluted and dangerous it becomes. Three Points has long been inhabited by tribal villages of subsistence fishers, but real estate entrepreneurs and wealthy oil companies have been trying to bribe the tribes to move out. Dawson roots out a host of motives for murder, ranging from personal vendettas to corporate conspiracies.
“Quartey’s mastery of the art of misdirection serves him well in his third mystery featuring Accra, Ghana, homicide detective Darko Dawson … A complex plot, combined with a warts-and-all lead and an evocative portrayal of the author’s native country, add up to a winner.” —Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
“Darko Dawson’s third case is his biggest and most ambitious yet … Quartey lays out what feel like endless possibilities with exemplary patience and clarity, unveiling world beneath world in Dawson’s Ghana.”
Read an Excerpt
Cape Three Points, the southernmost tip of Ghana, is beautiful and wild. Verdant forest covers the three finger-like peninsulas that jut into the Atlantic Ocean. Dizzying cliffs overlook the cyan waters. As waves strike the slate grey rocks and burst into gossamer spray, the roar of the sea crescendos like the sibilant clash of cymbals.
At dusk, the brightness of the sky melts and softens. The dying sun lays a wide band of gold across the sea. A full moon rises and imparts a silver gloss to the dark ocean, silhouetting fishing canoes gliding along silently like ghosts.
The forests and mangrove swamps of the coast are flora and fauna sanctuaries. In the Gulf of Guinea too, wildlife flourishes, but not without threat. Frolicking bottlenose dolphins and humpback whales would do well to avoid an alien creature in their midst. Afloat on powerful, squat limbs, its gangly crane booms resemble tentacles. From the derrick, its drill descends like a proboscis and penetrates the seabed to extract as much oil as possible. The creature is the Thor Sterke.
In July, the Equator dawn begins with a rosé blush expanding across the horizon. For the Thor Sterke crane operator who has worked graveyard, the lovely panorama is a welcome indication that his overnight shift is almost over. He struggles to remain alert as he lifts the last of the heavy loads from the supply vessel stationed at the starboard side of the rig. He brings up a large bundle of drilling equipment and expertly swings it around to the pipe deck, where two workers stand ready to guide the bundle to its assigned destination.
Over the next twenty-five minutes, the sun rises. High up in his cab, the crane operator has a 360-degree view of the seascape. A flat-decked supply vessel is approaching, a trawler is just visible to the south, and two fishing canoes are coming in from the southwest.
“Fuckin’ fishermen,” he mutters. Fishing canoes are not allowed within 500 meters of the rig. That’s the rule, and yet they violate it all the time. They end up colliding with supply vessels, and their fishing nets sometimes snag on crucial rig installations.
He ignores the canoes as he begins another lift and sling, but at the end of the cycle, he watches them draw closer. Two fishermen are in the larger one, which is fitted with an outboard motor. After a while, the fisherman at the stern starts up the motor and turns the canoe north toward the shore. The smaller canoe is neither motor-powered, nor paddled. It appears to be drifting at the whim of the northeasterly sea currents. The crane operator thinks he can make out a figure in the canoe, but something is odd and still about the craft.
He puts a pair of binoculars to his eyes and searches for the canoe.
He jumps with fright as a man’s head comes into the field of vision. It is stuck on the end of an upright pole on the bow. Its mouth is open and the right eyeball has been scooped out. At first, the crane operator thinks it must be an extraordinarily lifelike mask and someone’s sick idea of a joke, but as he shifts the field of view slightly, he sees the decapitated man sitting inside the canoe with ragged, bloody pieces of tissue projecting from the dark gorge in his neck.
The crane operator turns his head and retches violently.
Hosiah was asleep. His little chest, wrapped in layers of gauze bandages, rhythmically rose and fell. His 24-hour observation in the Intensive Care Unit had passed uneventfully, and now he was on the step-down ward. Darko Dawson sat at his son’s bedside keeping watch, frequently looking up to check the cardiac monitor on
He was thankful Hosiah was out of the ICU. It meant he was stable and progressing. Dawson had found the high-tech, intensive care environment overwhelming. To him, the array of machines wasn’t so much a reassurance that every possible body system was under surveillance; it was a reminder that every possible body system could go wrong.
He was aware of a slight soreness in his own chest, as though he too had gone through Hosiah’s cardiac surgery—sympathy pains for the boy who meant everything to him. Dawson felt relief and deep gratitude. He and his wife, Christine, had endured the agony of watching their son slowly deteriorate over the seven years of his young life. Hosiah had been born with a large ventricular septal defect, and his physical condition had progressively worsened as his need for surgery had become more urgent every day. Ghana’s National Health Insurance Scheme only paid for the basics, like anti-malarial drugs. Open-heart surgery was not basic. The fee was far beyond their ability to pay.
Dr. Anum Biney, a forensic pathologist who had worked with Dawson on several murder cases, had called up his friend, the director of the National Cardiothoracic Center. Biney’s personal appeal on Dawson’s behalf had resulted in the approval of the operation for a nominal fee.
Dawson was off from work for ten days. It had not been easy to obtain clearance for temporary leave from the Homicide Unit at the Criminal Investigations Unit, CID, whereas Christine, who was a primary school teacher, had easily secured extended time off from work so she could be with Hosiah until he was well enough to return to school.
Christine had gone down the hall to the washroom. Dawson glanced over to the next bed where a four-year-old boy, also recovering from cardiac surgery, was sitting up in bed working on a coloring book. At the third bed, a nurse was attending to a teenage girl.
This hospital room was semi-private. In the adjacent ward, private rooms existed for those who could afford them. Everyone at this exceptionally well-equipped center had either money or good fortune. Located in Ghana’s capital, Accra, where Dawson and his family lived, the center was the only one of its kind in the entire country. He could not help but think of the multitude of children in Ghana dying from congenital heart disease for lack of medical facilities.
Dawson occupied himself by reading the lead article in today’s Daily Graphic newspaper. The headline was “Malgam Makes New Offshore Find.” Malgam, a UK oil company, had been the first to discover substantial petroleum deposits off the coast at Cape Three Points in Ghana’s Western Region. It had been producing oil at the rate of about 70,000 barrels a day. On an international scale, this wasn’t much, but the plan was to increase it to 120,000 bpd over the next twelve months. Meanwhile, Malgam kept making new discoveries and appeared to be doing very well financially.
The oil find was changing the political and economic landscape of the Western Region, especially in the regional capital, Sekondi-Takoradi, the twin city about 180 kilometers west of Accra. Its unofficial name was now the “Oil City,” and apparently, Ghanaians, foreigners, banks, insurance companies, and hotels were flocking to it. Since one visit to see his aunt when he was a teenager, Dawson had not been back to Takoradi, or “Tadi,” as people affectionately called it. He could only imagine how much the city had transformed in that time.
Christine came back to the ward, looking lovely in a batik skirt and a kingfisher-blue top. Dawson could not count the number of times she had turned men’s heads today alone. It always made him smile with pride and think, Sorry, you can’t have her.
She sat down beside him, leaning on his thigh. “You can take a break for a while, if you like.”
“I’m okay for now,” he said, slipping his fingers into her soft palm.
Hosiah must have heard their voices. He stirred and his eyes fluttered open.
“Hey, Champ,” Dawson said, smiling. He passed his hand gently back and forth over Hosiah’s hair, cut low just like his dad’s. The more the boy grew up, the more he resembled Dawson.
Hosiah’s eyes lingered on Dawson’s face first and then traveled to his mother’s and back to Dawson’s.
“How do you feel?” Dawson asked him.
“Good.” Hosiah gazed around the room for a moment as he again familiarized himself with his surroundings. General anesthesia played tricks on the mind and the memory. “Mama?”
Christine went to the other side of the bed to be closer to him. “What is it, sweetie?”
She exchanged a smile with Dawson. That was a good sign. She kissed Hosiah’s forehead. “They’re going to bring you something soon.”
“How hungry are you, Champ?” Dawson asked. Through his sleepy haze, a smile played at the corners of Hosiah’s lips. He had a little game with his father. “I’m very, very, very, very hungry.”
“Hungry enough to eat twenty balls of kenkey?”
Kenkey, made from fermented corn, was a staple particularly among the Ga people.
Hosiah began to laugh, then winced. “Daddy, don’t make me laugh. It hurts.”
“Dark,” Christine said reproachfully.
“Sorry,” he apologized sheepishly.
Hosiah turned pensive. “Daddy, did they really fix the hole in my heart?”
“Yes, they did.”
“So, now I’ll be fine? I can play soccer and do everything?”
“If the operation went the way it was supposed to and you heal up well.”
“And how is my favorite patient?”
One of the nurses had arrived with Hosiah’s lunch on a tray. She smiled at him. “Are you ready to eat something?”
“He’s more than ready,” Dawson said.
Christine and Dawson helped Hosiah to sit up. Dawson watched the boy’s face to see how much discomfort he was having, but his son registered little. Over countless visits to the hospital, Dawson had observed just how tough sick children could be. Hosiah could take any injection or tolerate a large-bore intravenous catheter with barely a ripple of concern. Dawson, on the other hand, was afraid of needles.
The meal was light—two slices of tea bread with honey, and a bowl of Tom Brown, a popular cereal made from lightly toasted corn.
Hosiah attacked it ferociously.
“Slow down,” Christine said, laughing. “Breathe in between mouthfuls.”
The boy took a rest. “When is Sly going to be here?”
“I’ll pick him up from school later and bring him to spend time with you,” Dawson said.
He had first met nine-year-old Sly on a previous case. For a while, the boy had disappeared, surfacing later as a homeless street kid. Neither Dawson nor Christine could leave him to that fate, especially after they’d learned that Sly did not even know who or where his parents were. They began adoption proceedings, and months later Sly was officially a Dawson. Two years older than Hosiah, he was protective of his younger brother and anxious to visit him in the hospital after school.
Dawson’s phone buzzed, and he went out to the corridor to take the call. It was his junior partner, Detective Sergeant Philip Chikata.
“Where you dey?” Chikata asked in fashionable pidgin.
“I’m at the hospital.”
“How is Hosiah?”
“Fine, so far. He’s a strong boy.”
“He is. Can I visit him tomorrow?”
“For sure, no problem. He’ll be happy to see you.”
“How long will they keep him?”
“They say he can go home on Tuesday.”
“Okay.” The sergeant paused. “Listen, my uncle will be calling you soon.”
Chikata was the nephew of Chief Superintendent Lartey, Dawson’s boss. Lartey doted on his nephew, who sometimes acted as a messenger between him and Dawson.
“What’s going on?” Dawson asked.
“He wants you back at work on Monday.”
Dawson’s eyebrows shot up. “But I’m on leave,” he protested, his voice sharpening.
“I know, but he says an urgent case has come up.”
“Do you know what it’s about?”
“Not exactly, but I know it’s in Takoradi.”
“Yah. I wanted to let you know before he calls you, so you won’t be too shocked.”
Dawson heaved a sigh. “Okay. Thank you for warning me.”
He ended the call and returned to the ward. Hosiah had finished lunch and gone back to sleep. At his bedside, Christine looked up from her romance novel.
“You don’t look too happy. Who was that on the phone?” Dawson sat down, reaching over to tilt her novel up so he could see the cover. “Honestly, what do these men have that I don’t?”
“You wouldn’t understand,” Christine said enigmatically. “So, who called you?”
“Chikata. He says Lartey wants me back at work on Monday.”
She stiffened visibly. “Why? For what?”
“A new case. In Tadi.”
“Takoradi!” She put the book down and dropped her voice to a sharp whisper. “No, you can’t do this. Hosiah needs us both right now.”
“Why does Lartey always do this?” She demanded furiosly. “What is wrong with that man?”
“You’re asking me?” Dawson said gloomily.
“He’s your boss, isn’t he?” She snapped.
“He could be my twin brother, and I still wouldn’t understand him.”
“You can’t go,” Christine said, shaking her head vigorously. “You simply cannot.”
She snatched up her novel. Dawson, sensing a looming crisis, said nothing. He was praying something would come up miraculously to change the chief superintendent’s mind. However, when Lartey called within half an hour, Dawson had a sinking feeling.
“Massa,” he answered in the colloquial but respectful manner of addressing a senior officer. “Good afternoon, massa.”
“Afternoon, Dawson. How is your boy doing?”
Dawson stood up again to go outside the ward. “He’s making a slow recovery, sir.” He didn’t want to give too glowing a report.
“Good. I need you to return to your duties on Monday.”
“You gave me ten days off—”
“You can make it up some other time,” Lartey interrupted briskly.
“We have a petitioned case from Takoradi, and I’ve assigned you to take it.”
“Please, sir, it won’t be possible to leave Hosiah right now. He’s still quite sick, and he needs me to be around for at least—”
“You have a wife, don’t you? Now you listen to me, Dawson. Your solving that serial killer case last year doesn’t suddenly make you a VIP. Your rank is still inspector, and you are still a junior officer. If you’re planning to move up the ladder, may I remind you that you are up for chief inspector next year, and I will be one of the senior officers on the panel recommending your promotion?”
Dawson swallowed hard. Lartey had cut him down to size with a single swipe.
“If you’re refusing to go to Takoradi,” the chief superintendent continued crisply, “don’t expect me to endorse your promotion. Instead, I will initiate dismissal procedures for insubordination. Take your pick.”
Dawson shut his eyes for a moment and gritted his teeth. Promotion versus dismissal was hardly a dilemma. The chief was serious about his threats, and he had Dawson by the throat.
“Yes, sir,” he said lightly, as if an unpleasant exchange had not just occurred. “What’s the story, sir?”
“Do you remember about four months ago a fishing canoe was spotted from an oil rig off Cape Three Points floating around with two dead bodies inside, one of which was decapitated?”
“Yes. It was in the news for some time. The victims were a Mr. and Mrs. Smith-something, if I remember.”
“Charles and Fiona Smith-Aidoo. She was a member of the Sekondi-Takoradi Metropolitan Assembly. He worked for Malgam Oil as director of corporate affairs. The canoe came drifting in full view of the Malgam rig. As if that wasn’t enough, their niece, Sapphire Smith-Aidoo, who is a physician, was on duty on the rig at the time this all happened.”
Dawson frowned. “What a bizarre story.”
“It is. The bottom line is the murder is still unsolved, and the doctor filed a petition with CID Headquarters last month asking us to investigate, and the director general has approved it. Someone has to go to Takoradi, and I have decided it will be you. Superintendent Hammond is the regional crime officer in charge at Sekondi HQ. You’re to report to him once you get there.”
“And when am I to leave, sir?”
“Please, Hosiah goes home from the hospital on Tuesday. Can I leave on Tuesday instead?”
Lartey paused and then acquiesced. “Yes, all right—but directly after he returns home. There’s no time to waste. I want this cleared up quickly. Understood?”
“My assistant has left the docket in your desk at headquarters, so read it and get up to speed.”
“I’ll do that, sir.”
“Chikata will join you in Takoradi on Friday. He hasn’t done a case outside Accra, so I would like him to have some free rein. I expect you to give him the benefit of your experience.”
“Of course.” That was fine with Dawson. In fact, he would be glad to have the detective sergeant with him. He could be a handful, but Dawson was fond of him. When Chikata had begun working with him years ago, he had been cocky and incompetent, but he had improved so much that Dawson trusted him completely now.
“One last thing,” Lartey said. “Dr. Smith-Aidoo works in Takoradi but has been in Accra the past three days. I told her to get in touch with you this afternoon after I spoke with you, so she will be calling to fill you in with the details of the case.”
“That’s all, Dawson.”
“Have a good weekend, sir.”
Lartey grunted and ended the call abruptly. Dawson’s heart was heavy. Now he had to face his wife and his two sons, one of them barely out of major surgery, and tell them he was going away. It would not go down well.
Kwei Quartey was born in Ghana and raised by a black American mother and a Ghanaian father, both of whom were university lecturers. As a teenager, he got into serious trouble with the military government for putting up protest posters; after a stint in prison for “sedition,” he left for the United States, where he has lived ever since. In 2008 he returned to Ghana for the first time, and now visits frequently as research for his writing. A practicing physician, he now lives and works in Pasadena. He writes in the morning before he sets off to work at HealthCare Partners, where he runs a wound clinic. He is the author of two other critically acclaimed novels in the Darko Dawson series, Wife of the Gods and Children of the Street.