By Graeme Kent
Soho, 2011 ($25.00)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
Solomon Islands, 1960. The sun is rapidly setting on the British Empire, and former colonies are transitioning to independent countries. Ben Kella is a man caught between the two worlds. Recognized as a bright young student by the colonial British government, he was sent from his home village, Maliata, to be properly educated. At the same time, he became the hereditary peace keeper, aofia, according to native tradition. He is a strong man, a former rugby star, but also a spiritual man who respects his cultural heritage. During World War II, when he was a teenager, he became a warrior against the invading Japanese. Now, fourteen years after the Japanese were driven from the area, Ben is a police sergeant, and his two roles are sometimes at odds with each other.
He has been sent to Maliata to investigate the disappearance of an American anthropologist, but he is immediately pulled into the mysterious death of a local man and the disappearance of the man's son. The people in the village don't want him interfering with what they see as a cultural issue to be dealt with by traditional means, but he believes this may be tied to the missing man and perhaps to the recent discovery of the bones of a white man who'd been missing since the Japanese left.
His work is both helped and hindered by Sister Conchita, a new arrival in the islands. She has a mind of her own and a temper that causes her problems with the church authorities and local smugglers. She, like Ben, is trying to find her way in an alien culture. Their relationship gets off to a rocky start when he catches her burying something in the mission cemetery, something he should have been told about, but she is able to explain. He and the sister grudgingly join forces to solve the crimes, and in the process learn to respect each other.
This is a fascinating first entry in a new series, taking the reader to a time and a place not often written about. Kent has created a vivid world of colorful characters and exotic scenery that the reader will not soon forget. I hope Sgt. Kella and Sister Conchita will have many more adventures in the beautiful and brutal Solomon Islands. The next book in the series is ONE BLOOD.
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