Friday, April 8, 2011

DEVIL-DEVIL by Graeme Kent



"Ben Kella has been shown his path," [Father Pierre] insisted.  "Now he will follow it.  It won't be easy for him.  He is finding his way in two worlds.  In the end that will make him strong and independent, but inevitably it will mean that he will suffer the occasional dark night of the soul.  When he does, he will continue to need our help."

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Graeme Kent's Devil-Devil is a wonderful book.  At one point as I was reading it, I had a feeling similar to the feeling I had when I read my first Tony Hillerman book:  "I'm getting to see into a whole new world."

The year is 1960. Ben Kella is an in-betweener.  He is the aofia, the one holy man picked by the Lau people to bring justice.  But he is also a bush policeman who serves what remains of British colonial government in the Solomon Islands. 

Kella lives between the old way and the new.  He will be a part of a change which will give his people power, but that change will transform them into something else along the way.

That's the background of this story.  Ben Kella and his people live in changing world.   

The change hasn't happened yet, at least completely.  The British are still tenuously in control in the Solomon Islands, but they are clearly on the way out.

Kella works to solve three crimes: a cold case murder which is brought back up because the hidden body resurfaces, a murder made to look like an accident, and the murder of a boy.  Also, there is a missing person. There is a stolen sacred carving.  And as if that weren't enough, there is smuggling to boot.

If the book sounds busy, it really isn't.  Kella and another in-between type, the newly assigned nun Sister Conchita, uneasily work together to solve the mysteries.

The young nun plays a key role in Kella's being able to solve the crime which is at the root of the story.

Kella's theory of investigation comes out of his culture. He says, "In my culture we don't believe in coincidences.  We consider that all things have meaning and are interlinked."

Find out how events are interlinked, and you solve the crime.

In the end, it would be impossible to solve this crime if you weren't Ben Kella.  The solution requires, not knowledge, but understanding of the native people, of their deepest faith and most private traditions.  Only someone who was one of them and even more, and aofia, could understand.

This is an excellent book.  One of its strongest points is that the cultural "trappings" are not trappings at all.  They are essential to the story, the only way to work the mystery out.

"I hoped for a time that [your being named aofia] might be the start of something important for Maqlaita," one character tells Kela, making it clear he is disappointed in Kela whom he sees as a failure.

And Kela replies, "You should have waited.  You should still be waiting.  When the time comes, I shall do something.  I promise."

"When the time comes . . ." In other words, there are more books to come. Those books will lead us through the change and Kella's part in it.  We only need to have the patience to come back and read the books yet waiting to be written. 

I hope to do that. 

5 comments:

Naomi Johnson said...

This sounds really good. Is this from Soho press?

Joe Barone said...

Naomi,
This book is very good. It is from Soho press.

Naomi Johnson said...

Ah! Ever since I read Leighton Gage's series from Soho I've been wanting to sample some of their other offerings. Sounds like you've given me a place to start.

Cathy said...

Soho is one of my favorite crime fiction imprints. I'm so glad you liked this one, Joe. Reading it is like entering a whole new world, and I enjoyed my visit.

Joe Barone said...

I came to it through your blog, and I'm glad I did. It was a wonderful book to read.