A Ben Kella and Sister Conchita Mystery by Graeme Kent
Review: The paths of Sergeant Ben Kella of the Solomon Islands Police Force and Sister Conchita — an American nun, who chose her name because she believed she was being assigned to South America before being sent instead the South Pacific — cross once again in the Western District, though each with very different purposes, in One Blood, the second mystery in this series by Graeme Kent.
Sergeant Ben Kella is sent to investigate acts of sabotage at a lumber camp on the logging island of Alvaro in the Roviana Lagoon. Two shipments of lumber have been burned, with an unusual signature of the Melanesians having left behind … possibly as a warning by the native people responsible for the act, possibly by an organization advocating independence of the islands from British authority, or possibly misdirection by someone else trying to shift the blame, Kella cannot be sure.
Meanwhile, Sister Conchita, recently assigned to a mission in Munda desperately in need of leadership, has two mysteries on her hands. A visitor to her mission, Ed Blamire, has died of an apparent heart attack during Open Day, the chapel in which she had previously met him all but destroyed from what appears to her to be a vicious struggle. His body is quickly flown back to the US before an investigation as to what might have happened to him even begun. Indeed, there appears to be no official interest in the man whatsoever, which she finds very odd. Later, while boating between islands, Sister Conchita hears shouts from the uninhabited island of Kasolo, where two locals have found a young man near death. When he has sufficiently recovered to speak about it, he tells her his name is Andy Russell, a volunteer cadet assigned to build a grass hut on the island over a month ago. But the organization apparently forgot about him, leaving him with little food and water. She insists on reporting the incident to the authorities, but Andy begs her not to do so. She does a little investigating on her own, and discovers that Ed Blamire had also expressed in interest in visiting Kasolo prior to his death. "Why were so many people interested in the tiny island of Kasolo? It was definitely something to ponder."
One Blood features two quite remarkable characters living in an unusual time and place for a murder mystery, the Solomon Islands of 1960. Here is what Sister Conchita's Mother Superior has to say about her:
You have many admirable qualities, and life around you is seldom dull … but you sometimes experience a desire to explore matters that, strictly speaking, are none of your concern. It certainly enlivens whichever mission you happen to be in at the time, but it can have its repercussions among the older and more settled members of our order. Most of them have had enough excitement for one lifetime. Perhaps if you were to spend less time on your self-imposed investigations into the trangressions of others and more on developing the virtues of humility and obedience, it might be the better both for you and for our order as a whole.
And her is what Sister Conchita herself thinks about Sergeant Ben Kella:
She simply could not make up her mind about him. She had known him for less than a year, but already he had impressed her more than any man she had ever met. The islander was perceptive and intuitive, and she knew from personal experience that he was physically courageous. But, she worried, all these things had to be balanced against the fact that he was a pagan. More than that, he was a high priest of the Lau gods, elected while only a child to this office, charged to spend his life maintaining peace among the Malaitans.
The characters are compelling enough to attract and keep readers to the series, but it's the inventive storyline in which they find themselves this time that sets this mystery apart. History buffs will recognize Kasolo Island as where a young commander John F. Kennedy landed with his injured crewmates after their PT boat, the PT-109, was rammed by a Japanese destroyer in 1943. (This is not a spoiler, as the collision and its aftermath are described in a preface to the book.) And 1960 is the year Kennedy was elected President of the United States. These two events play a peripheral, albeit supporting, role in the crimes being investigated here.
Like its superb predecessor, One Blood may be remembered as one of the best crime novels of the year.
Acknowledgment: Soho Press provided an ARC of One Blood for this review.
Review Copyright © 2012 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
Soho Crime (Hardcover), February 2011
ISBN-13: 9781569478738; ISBN-10: 1569478732
Location(s) referenced in One Blood: Solomon Islands
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One Blood by Graeme Kent — A Ben Kella and Sister Conchita Mystery
Publisher: Soho Crime
Publication Date: February 2012
List Price: $25.00