The Missing American

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I put this on my get-at-library list because it was an Edgar "Best Novel" nominee. Summary: it's not bad, but it's not great. It's by Kwei Quartey, who was born in Ghana, and now lives in Pasadena. The book is number one in a (so far) two-book series featuring Ghanaian Emma Djan, a very likeable heroine.

So this is Emma's origin story. She starts out as a cop in Accra, assigned to a department she finds boring: investigating commercial fraud. She wants to be a homicide detective like her late father. When she appeals to a higher-up for reassignment, however, things don't go well, and she's fired.

Fortunately, she lands a job with a private investigation company. And her first case is investigating the disappearance of the titular American, Gordon Tilson. Gordon travelled to Ghana with dreams of meeting Helena, a lovely widow with whom he's struck up a cyber-romance. To the extent that he's already sent her thousands of dollars for her brother's medical expenses… Oh, wait.

Yes, Gordon's been scammed. His trip turns into an investigation into tracking down the scammers, and (of course) he soon becomes The Missing American, as promised.

There's a lot of stuff going on here. Political assassinations. Deeply corrupt cops. Autistic kids. An interesting look at the sakawa culture, where young Ghanaian men are initiated by a fetish priest into a life of internet fraud. (The priest demands all sorts of disgusting trinkets as his price for membership in the criminal empire.) These details and diversions really flesh out a pretty standard crime plot.

I have an unworthy thought perusing that list of the most recent Edgar nominees: out of the six, only one is by a white male. I can't help but wonder if the nominators were going for "diversity" instead of quality.