A Ben Kella and Sister Conchita Mystery by Graeme Kent
Review: Ben Kella — an internationally educated police sergeant for the British government which administers the Solomon Islands in 1960, where the book is set, but also an aofia, a hereditary peacekeeper for his people — and Sister Conchita, a nun with a local mission, work together to investigate a series of disparate events that may be connected with the disappearance of a professor in Devil-Devil, the first mystery in this series by Graeme Kent.
Kella is sent to the island of Malaita to inquire as to the present whereabouts of one Professor Mallory, but is soon recalled to headquarters to give his report. This monologue from his superior neatly sums up the early chapters of the book:
[Y]ou flagrantly disobeyed these instructions. On your own initiative you start an investigation into the custom killing of a villager. Then you discover a skeleton at a mission station and allege that it is that of a beachcomber who has been murdered. After that you become involved in a shooting incident with a Roman Catholic sister, and tell her that someone is trying to kill her. Finally you launch yourself on an expedition into the most dangerous area of Malaita. This time you encounter the corpse of a dead schoolboy. This drives you into a rage, which antagonizes the local people to such an extent that they were about to kill you when Inspector Lorrimer and his officers arrived providentially.
The circumstances surrounding these events are cleverly linked, but Devil-Devil is so much more than a simple murder mystery — and, indeed, simple it is not. The characters of Ben Kella and Sister Conchita are fully and exceptionally well developed and realized, both are independently minded, self-sufficient and self-reliant individuals, who make for a most remarkable, but also most compelling, partnership. Here's a typical sample of their dialog:
"The mission is where all the trouble started."
"How can you possibly know that?"
"I just do," said Kella. He paused and then added reluctantly, "The spirits told me so."
"Oh, fine!" burst out Sister Conchita. "I'm dragged down a river and across a marsh because, I'm informed — me, a Christian sister, mind you — you're getting messages across the ether from trolls?"
"This is my island and they're my spirits," said Kella.
The unusual setting in the Solomon Islands enhances the overall appeal of the story, with its mountains and rain forests and artificial islands constructed by hand in the lagoon adding to the mystique surrounding the otherwise unexplained — or more aptly, yet to be explained — events. Devil-Devil is an extraordinary novel, one of the year's best mysteries, and one not to be missed.
Acknowledgment: Soho Press provided an ARC of Devil-Devil for this review.
Review Copyright © 2011 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
Soho Crime (Hardcover), February 2012
ISBN-13: 9781616950583; ISBN-10: 1616950587
Location(s) referenced in Devil-Devil: Solomon Islands
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Devil-Devil by Graeme Kent — A Ben Kella and Sister Conchita Mystery
Publisher: Soho Crime
Publication Date: February 2011
List Price: $25.00