Accra private investigator Emma Djan's first missing persons case will lead her to the darkest depths of the email scams and fetish priests in Ghana, the world's Internet capital.
When her dreams of rising through the police ranks like her late father crash around her, 26-year-old Emma Djan is unsure what will become of her life in Accra. Through a sympathetic former colleague, Emma gets an interview with a private detective agency tracking down missing persons, thefts, and marital infidelities. It’s not the future she imagined, but it’s her best option.
Meanwhile, Gordon Tilson, a middle-aged widower in Washington, DC, has found solace in an online community after his wife’s passing. Through the support group, he’s even met a young Ghanaian widow he really cares about, and when her sister gets into a car accident, he sends her thousands of dollars to cover the hospital bill—to the horror of his only son, Derek. When Gordon runs off to Ghana to surprise his new love and disappears, Derek chases after him, fearing for his father’s life.
The case of the missing American man will drag both Emma and Derek into a world of sakawa scams, fetish priests, and those willing to keep things secret through death.
Kwei Quartey is a crime fiction writer and physician based in Pasadena, California. In 2018, having practiced medicine for more than 15 years while simultaneously working as a writer, Quartey finally retired from medical practice to become a full-time novelist. Prior to that, though, he had balanced the two professions by dedicating the early morning hours to writing before beginning each day in his clinic.
Quartey was born in Ghana, West Africa, to a Ghanaian father and Black American mother, both of whom were lecturers at the University of Ghana. Quartey describes how his family’s home was full of hundreds of books, both fiction and nonfiction, which inspired him to write novellas as early as the age of eight or nine. By then, Quartey was certain he wanted to be an author.
But his interests shifted by the time he was a teenager, when he decided he wanted to be a doctor. Quartey began on a science-to-medicine track in secondary school. After the death of his father, Quartey’s mother returned to the United States. By then, Quartey had already begun medical school in Ghana. Transferring to a medical school in the United States wasn’t easy, but he successfully gained admission to Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, DC.
After graduation from his residency training in Internal Medicine, Kwei Quartey returned to his love of writing. He went to a UCLA extension course in creative writing, and wrote two novels while in a writing group that met every Wednesday evening. But it would be a few years yet before Quartey would create the Inspector Darko Dawson series.
As a crime fiction writer, Kwei made the Los Angeles Times Bestseller List in 2009. The following year, the GOG National Book Club voted him Best Male Author. The five Inspector Darko Dawson novels, set in Ghana, are WIFE OF THE GODS, CHILDREN OF THE STREET, MURDER AT CAPE THREE POINTS, GOLD OF OUR FATHERS, and DEATH BY HIS GRACE.
Two novels, KAMILA and DEATH AT THE VOYAGER HOTEL (e-book) are non-Darko books.
In January 2020, Quartey’s new detective series launched to critical acclaim with THE MISSING AMERICAN, the debut of the Emma Djan Investigations and the introduction of the first West African female private eye in fiction. The second in the series, SLEEP WELL, MY LADY, was released January 12, 2021, immediately garnering attention for its unusual style of time shifts in relation to the crime.
THE MISSING AMERICAN was nominated for the 2021 Edgar Allan Poe Award for best novel, and won the 2021 Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel.
LAST SEEN IN LAPAZ, the third Emma Djan novel, was released February 2023, and the fourth, THE WHITEWASHED TOMBS, is expected 2024.
The Missing American by Kwei Quartey is a 2020 Soho Crime publication.
A promising start to a new series!
Emma Djan wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps by becoming a homicide detective. She finally makes it into the police force, but her dreams of working homicide go horribly awry when she is kicked off the force. Thankfully, she lands on her feet getting hired on as a private detective, working for Yemo Sowah, also a former cop.
The first case Emma is assigned is that of a missing American man, Gordon Tilson, who had flown to Ghana to meet a woman he met online.
Upon arrival, Gordon realizes he has been duped, that the woman he was to meet, never existed. Gordon, feeling quite embarrassed, plans his return to the US immediately. But, an old friend of his curiously pressures him to stay in the country and enjoy himself for a few days, then suggests the scammers should not go unpunished, thus convincing Gordon to do some investigating. But, before he makes much headway, he disappears. Now Gordon’s son, Derek, has come to Ghana in search of his father, hiring Emma’s detective firm to investigate.
I enjoyed this mystery partly because it is set in Ghana, an interesting locale, and because of the different dialects and procedures. I also liked the characters, especially Emma, who is easy to cheer for. Internet scams are nothing new, of course, but the plot is fresh, multi-layered and quite interesting.
I will admit the pacing is slow, and the book does require a sharper focus and a little patience at times. But, I felt the slower pace enabled me to fully absorb this well-crafted, detail driven story. Everything is somehow connected, and as the pieces drop into place, in their own good time, it becomes clear how brilliantly plotted the novel is.
Overall, I loved the atmosphere, the lush, rich, and complicated location, the different dialects and the culture which helped create a tense, riveting crime drama. I already have the second book in the series queued up and ready to go!!
I have no regrets reading this book and trying to fit it into a reading challenge half way in the year. It was a nice try by Quartey to be a successful author. And the author did succeed. He is smart, and measured, and also learns fast. Too bad he did not think outside of the box.
See, this type of thriller lets itself go after a certain amount of exciting events happen at breakneck speed. The error is to allow one to write fluff to flesh out the book in a way that would please most booklovers. It is my misfortune that my mind does not work in a way that is seduced by filler fare.
The book's first 30 chapters are outstanding. I have always had a thing for writers that show their hand. And when Quartey showed us stuff that makes us wonder why it was put there, we come dangerously close to solving the case of The Missing American.
The book's many characters choke the life out of this thriller. A slow and boring car chase is just maybe two vehicles driving along the road. This story showcased a speedster... chasing an ice cream van. Very hard to buy.
There are instances in works of art by Western artists, whether books or series or movies, where the jubilant, competitive, but upbeat upbringing of the artists betray their humanism. The African authors like Quartey too have that proclivity. Only that den of vipers that is Japan regularly shows its sting in art. The Missing American is slightly merciful to its characters. And that is how potentially great art becomes run-of-the-mill art.
I still would trade all the in between books of all my favourite book series in exchange to be introduced to and keep the memories of this book. It is something that the herd is not grazing. It is the outskirts, the outliers. I liked this book. 2 stars is an okay rating in my personal rating system. But this book stayed 5 star for most of the first part.
I was pleasantly surprised by the interracial sex in the book. I have a love/hate relationship with this particular strain of lovemaking. A conflicting one. The book was not too graphic, but I still cannot know what made the scenes unemotional or cold. This was a freakish display of writing. It was there and it did not pass unnoticed by me.
The threads were not all tied together but there was a decent effort in making the story whole. It is really a pity that such good ideas met with staleness, fatigue, and confusion during the middle part of the book. Anyway, 2 stars invariably means that I am not picking up this book again, good as it was for my reading dietary needs. This review's job is to jog my memory. It is terrifying how diverse Africa is. Ghana seems like another planet. Respectfully signed, a Mauritian.
There is an intriguing and informative story here, but I failed to feel the tension or suspense that its words should have conveyed. I felt it was longer than necessary, and some concentration was needed to keep track of many characters who were not sufficiently developed.
The story gives a less than favourable impression of Ghana. It concentrated on young men (sakawa boys)becoming very wealthy through internet scams if they became successful in their fraudulent business. The most ambitious were under the spell of a fetish priest (witch doctor) and were forced to undergo horrific rituals, believing they would attract more money. At the top was a mysterious Godfather who was getting a percentage of the illegal, ill-gained money from overseas. The story also focused on corruption among politicians, an ineffective police force, and even assassination and murder.
When I was a tourist in Ghana, I was unaware of any of the crimes. I did notice the gap between the wealthy and their servants, such as their household staff and the ones who drove them in their luxury vehicles. I did enjoy the friendly people, the tourist sites, and the native food frequently mentioned in the book.
One of the victims was Gordon, who was living in Washington, D.C. He was a pleasant, friendly widower, but a man who was naive and easily persuaded. He had been in the Peace Corps in Ghana, married a native woman who later died, and had visited the country many times. He seemed obsessed with Ghana's women and believed he was in love with a beautiful woman from Ghana he met online. After sending this fictitious woman thousands of dollars, he decided to go to Ghana to meet her.
It says something about his character that he slept with a wealthy woman from Ghana, whose husband was a powerful man in that country just before his flight. His son, Derek, became aware of his correspondence and his money transfers and warned Gordon that he was undoubtedly the victim of a scam. Gordon refused to believe he was being defrauded. Once he landed in Ghana, he realized that Derek's suspicions were correct and that the woman did not exist. A friend back home, Cas, dissuaded him from returning home. Cas was a journalist and persuaded Gordon to remain there to investigate the rampant internet frauds. He was using the impressionable Gordon to gain information for a story he wanted to write. This targeted Gordon by some dangerous foes, and he went missing.
In the meantime, Emma, a young policewoman, was bored by the routine tasks she was given. She wanted to work in the homicide division. After approaching the head of the police department with her request, the man attempted to rape her. Falsehoods were spread about her, resulting in her being fired. Later, she was hired by an honest private detective agency. She impressed them with her diligence. Derek employed the agency to find his father after becoming discouraged by the police's lack of attention. Emma's task was now the search for Gordon by following his path until his disappearance. This put her in extreme danger.
The plot was interesting and complex. However, I was not engaged in the tension and suspense, and most characters were undeveloped. I hope this story serves as a warning to vulnerable people who may become victims of the sakawa boys and those who profit from their scams.
This book would translate well to film. It has almost everything you need to make a compelling movie: (1) Interesting, somewhat complex plot, (2) Exotic locale, (3) Large cast of characters to add some complexity to the story line, (4) Lots of local color and atmosphere, (5) Topical themes of internet scams and of political corruption.
This is a mystery/thriller set in modern-day Ghana. Theoretically, the main character is 26-year-old Emma Djan, rookie police officer following in her late father's footsteps, who suffers a setback in her career and finds herself dismissed from the police force. She lands on her feet with a job at a private detective agency. This agency is hired by American Derek Tilson to find his father Gordon, of Washington D.C., missing several weeks since arriving in Ghana, the victim of an elaborate internet romance scam. The Ghanaian police department had been informed of Tilson's disappearance but lack of much cooperation and investigation on their part leads Tilson's son to the private agency.
That would be the main and titular story of this start to a new series by Ghanaian-American author Kwei Quartey, whose Darko Dawson series, also set in Africa, appears to be popular, although I have never read any of the Darko books and cannot give an opinion. This is my first book by Quartey and my impression of it is favorable as an entertainment.
There's a lot going on and a wide range of characters to keep you interested and on your toes. For the first third of the book you may be wondering what all these seemingly disparate happenings in very short chapters have to do with each other, but everything will be tied up neatly by the end.
You have political assassinations and government intrigue, undercover investigations, a fetish priest/witch doctor and Ghanaian "sakawa" boys (internet scammers), a Ghanaian autism center, corruption in the police force. All of this and a bit more and told with a good bit of local color and Ghanaian traditions to make the story fun and even informative.
Where this fails for me, enough that I'll only go to three stars for its rating, is in the writing. It's just good enough to get the story told and that's all. Also there are many characters but little character development. Every person here is just a bit player in the story (even Emma) and feels pulled directly from Central Casting. I don't feel I really know much about any of the character's real character after the read.
If I had enjoyed the way the story was written as much as I enjoyed the story itself, this could have been a 5-star book.
One of the best things about reading is the chance to visit places you have never been. This book takes us to Ghana where an intrepid young policewoman tries to do her job in the face of rampant corruption and even sexual harassment. When she stands up for herself she is fired but bounces back as a private investigator. Her first case is the missing American who has visited Ghana to visit a woman he met on-line but discovers he has been defrauded for money. He disappears when he tries to find out who tricked him. The investigation goes through the seamy side of Ghana including a voodoo priest who has connections to powerful people. It's really interesting and there are a lot of twists and turns. It's amazing to read about a place that I had no knowledge of before this and, unfortunately, left me with no desire to visit.
The Missing American is a well-described crime thriller set in Ghana, a location that provides a unique setting to a reasonably standard crime story.
An American man is sucked in by a Ghanaian internet scam that cost him a few thousand dollars. Believing he was going to meet a beautiful woman in person, Gordon Tilson flies to Accra only to realise the extent to which he had been deceived. Rather than head straight back home he decides to stick around and try to expose the scammers himself.
Emma Djan is a member of the Ghana Police Service CID but she wants to work in Homicide, just as her father did. When she speaks to her superior about the possibility she manages to get an interview with the Police Commissioner. But things don’t go well with Emma ultimately finding herself out of a job.
Fortunately, she makes contact with Yemo Sowah, head of one of the country’s foremost private investigator firms and lands a job as a junior investigator. It’s here that she begins to do what she’s found she’s most suited to - investigating crime.
Derek Tilson walks into the Sowah Private Investigators Agency looking to hire the company to help find his father. Gordon Tilson hasn’t been heard from in over a month and Dereky is concerned that something has happened to him. He tells Sowah and Emma about the internet scam and about his father’s plan to try to expose the scammers.
It’s enough to get the investigation started and the first place to look is the sakawa, the fraudsters who operate with the help of so-called supernatural powers.
What follows is a very well constructed missing person investigation that has the added bonus of diving deeply into corruption and greed within Ghana’s corridors of power.
The story unfolds carefully, at first, but with growing urgency and an increasing sense of despair. A deceptively cagey plot is put together to provide a number of potential scenarios for Djan to uncover. I thought the divergent storylines were handled well by the author and then brought together for an action-packed climax.
The strong point of difference in The Missing American was, of course, Ghana itself. The Ghanaian characters, their cultural norms and expected deference to authority were all used to good effect to play a significant role in telling the story and in the way that it would ultimately play itself out. It also played a part in highlighting the strength and bravery of Emma Djan as the lead character in the series.
The Missing American was the winner of the 2021 Shamus Award for Best Debut PI Novel and proved to be a completely absorbing mystery in a story told well.
A new series by Quartey (not Darko Dawson), featuring 26-year-old Emma Djan, who is fired from her boring procedural police job for not succumbing to sexual harassment. A homicide department colleague of her deceased father refers Emma to a private detective agency in Gabon. This agency is hired by American Derek Tilson to find his father Gordon, missing several weeks since arriving in Ghana, the victim of an elaborate internet romance scam, because the local police and U.S. embassy have not helped. Emma has to investigate the world of scammers (and their strange dependence on fetish priests, who promise them power and success, if they partake in horrifying rituals) as well as rampant political and police corruption. Gordon Tilson's stupidity, egged on by his dying journalist friend, is in a word, monumental.
My second Kwei Quartey book and it was such a good read! A crime thriller set in Ghana, this one delivered on so many fronts. Some issues discussed in this book include internet scams, corruption in the Ghanaian police force, and workplace sexual harassment.
Even though the series is named after Emma Djan, she’s more of a side character in this book. While the book does shed light on her story to some extent, most of the focus is placed on the titular ‘missing American’ and a group of Ghanaian internet scammers known as ‘sakawa boys’. In general, this was a book with an ensemble cast made up of lots of characters and they all have their stories. It was overwhelming at first but it was satisfying to see all those stories come together.
The writing and plot of this book are simply brilliant. The central mystery was really interesting, and I was very invested in finding out what happened to the missing American.
One of my favourite things about this book is the exposition into the lives of the sakawa boys. In the grand scheme of things, they are the bad guys, but the author takes us on a deep dive into their lives and what drives them. He also explores the lengths they will go to be successful with their scams.
The biggest victim in this book is the missing American, who came to Ghana to meet up with a woman he sent thousands of dollars to, only to discover that she doesn’t exist and he has been scammed. His friend back in the States convinces him to use the opportunity he has by being in Ghana to find and take down the scammers who stole from him. I, however, couldn’t muster any pity for him, because he and his friend gave off a lot of ‘white saviour’ vibes. His son, Derek, who is half-Ghanaian, also came off as very unlikeable. He’s supposed to be half-Ghanaian, but he never passed up an opportunity to look down on or think the worst of Ghana.
Another problem I had with the book is that it was way too long. I was really invested for the first 40%, but towards the middle, it just became very repetitive and no headway was being made in the case.
That aside, this was a very enjoyable book and I would def recommend it.
This is a relatively slow paced mystery with a really interesting presence--an American man disappears in Ghana after going to visit who he believes to be a woman he's fallen in love with over the internet (and just happens to have given several thousand dollars.) I liked private detective Emma Djan, who has a compelling backstory, but I didn't quite feel like I got to know her because there were so many characters. I'm definitely interested to see how she develops in future installments of the series, however. The mystery was certainly a compelling one, as was the story of the sakawa boys, who attempt to harness the power of spiritual rituals to increase their success as internet scammers. At times the dialogue seemed a bit stilted to my ear, but it may just be different speech patterns more common to Ghana, and I really have no way of knowing.
Overall, while this wasn't a favorite, I liked it and will probably read the next book in the series. I would recommend to mystery readers who are patient and enjoy reading books set in novel settings and cultures.
On the cover is the quote: Rich, with the colors of Ghana, this is great Sunshine Noir. What the heck is "sunshine noir" I wondered, and I was off to see what I could learn. I learned it is a response to Scandinavian, or Nordic, Noir. It is supposed to be the same sort of mystery/thriller set in hot places rather than cold ones. I have read few of the cold type and this is my first of the hot type.
As to this offering, it is definitely more thriller than mystery. There was a little more lust in the first 100 pages than I thought necessary, and a bit later there is one scene of gratuitous sex. And it truly is gratuitous, as the characters involved were relatively minor, and the scene didn't contribute to either solving the "mystery" or confusing the reader. I suppose that is what sells books these days, but I'm grateful I got this from the library and didn't pay for it.
The prose is not difficult, but fortunately it also isn't overly simplified. There are enough Ghanaian words to have me paying attention. I forgot there was a glossary at the back. There were a couple of words I was interested in the pronunciation, and the glossary provides that. I have said before it is unusual when an author can write a good characterization for the opposite gender. Quartey doesn't quite make Emma Djan real, but do you read thrillers for fully-fleshed characterizations?
While looking around at "sunshine noir" I spied a couple of other titles that looked interesting. In that way, I'm glad I picked this up. As a thriller, it is OK, though I'm not the best judge of that genre. I won't outright shun Quartey, but I have so many other books I want to read, that I suspect it will be some time, if ever, that I find myself in front of another. A just OK 3-stars.
The Missing American is a nice crime story with enough twists and turns to unravel its mystery that it kept me hooked throughout. Quartey makes the most of his Ghanaian setting with moments of Sjowall and Wahloo style social commentary that I particularly appreciated. I felt I got a good sense of Atimpoku and how people live there. This novel is much more of a serious crime story than the better known Alexander McCall Smith cosy series, but I wouldn't say that it has the pace to be a real thriller.
While I liked the narrative itself, I did unfortunately think that the story was let down by unconvincing characters. Even our heroine, Emma Djan, didn't have a memorable enough portrayal for me to fully believe in her and I don't see how she will become the lynchpin of a whole series. (The Missing American is book one of the Emma Djan mysteries.) Dialogue is often clunky and repetitive too. I lost count of how many times characters recapped plot points to each other that we readers were already well aware of! If you're a crime fiction fan, The Missing American is worth picking up for its unusual plotlines, but I don't think I would continue with the series.
Missing in Ghana Review of the Soho Crime paperback edition (Dec. 2020) of the original Soho Crime hardcover (Jan. 2020)
This is the first of Ghanaian-American Kwei Quartey's novels that I have read and it was therefore especially fascinating for the view of life and crime in Ghana (the West African country formerly known as the Gold Coast) that it presented. It does require that you suspend belief in some areas that scams of internet fraud can be so successful that a group such as the Sakawa Boys of Ghana can be profitable. There is already a film documentary that attests to that as well in Sakawa (2018). That the group is associated with sacrificial ritual cults and priests makes it all the more incredible.
Quartey builds his story very effectively and takes time with character development. The story toggles between the stories of soon-to-be missing American, named Gordon Tilson of the title and the private investigator Emma Djan, who is assigned to his case. Widower Tilson goes to Ghana to hopefully meet the woman he has been corresponding with online (a scam enabled through deep-fake videos). Discovering he has been duped, he sets out to expose the scammers, but then disappears. His son arrives in Ghana to search for him and not getting much help from the police, hires the private agency instead.
I found The Missing American to be quite an intriguing thriller in a unique setting. Investigator Emma Djan returns in Sleep Well, My Lady (Jan. 2021).
i read The Missing American due to its nomination for Best Novel in the 2021 Edgar Awards by the Mystery Writers of America. The 75th Annual Edgar® Awards will be celebrated on April 29, 2021.
I liked almost everything about The Missing American: the cultural tourism aspect (a major draw for me in mystery novels) is exceptional, the author has a good understanding of the people and places he describes, the heroine is interesting and likable, the villains are villainous, and the plot is engaging. My only objection to the book is that it just tries to do too much. There are so many good guys that the interesting, likable heroine is only in about 10% of the novel; there are several separate murders that only sort of have to do with each other; there are extraneous plot elements that don't contribute to the main story; and there are just too damn many things going on for a fairly short series mystery. That said, the good things about The Missing American far outweigh the problems with it, and I am looking forward to reading more.
A lonely widower is befriended on Facebook by a younger Ghanaian woman. They become close and he sends her money for her sister. His best friend, a dying journalist encourages him and he decides to visit her in Ghana. When he arrived, she is nowhere to be found. His friend convinces him to investigate sakawa boys, those who create false identities in order to scam money from unwitting westerners. The man disappears.
Emma joined the police force hoping to investigate murders, but the opportunity to join the homicide department came with sexual assault attempt from her boss and so she ends up working as a private investigator for a company in Accra and one of the first cases she is assigned is that of an American trying to find his father, who disappeared a few weeks earlier.
This is a solid mystery novel. The plot is solid and the novel is well-paced. The author is both Ghanaian and American and so this book is an introduction to life in Ghana, presented with an eye to what Americans don't know. Some of the characters and situations were what one expects in a thriller-type book but the uniqueness and richness of the setting minimized these elements and as this is the author's first book, there's a good chance this series will become better as it goes.
There is a lot going on in this novel, not the least of which is its interesting location. Ghana is a compelling setting for this book and learning about it was fascinating. The story has so much going on, that it becomes almost dizzying. Internet scams, police corruption, sexual harassment, fetish priests, affairs, and autistic children is a lot for any plot. I enjoyed Emma Djan but didn't feel that I got to know her very well. Maybe the series will correct that.
I'm a really big fan of Kwei's writing but this book just did not seem to do it for me. It was slightly confusing at certain points with subplots being narrated halfway before being abandoned as the author focused on the plot.
Also a bit upset that I really didn't enjoy any of the characters. They were barely given any life or backstory to them and felt very one dimensional which made it hard to love any of them.
My immense enjoyment of this book is all due to the audiobook narrator, Robin Miles. She brought the culture and spirit of Ghana to life: its smells, its food, the accent of the Ghanaians. Of course this book is a masterpiece by the author, Kwei Quartey. He has created a rather naive but discerning sleuth, whose first case focuses on the infamous email scams. There are many characters in this story but I urge you to stick with it. Highly recommended!
An American widower, Gordon Tilson, meets a Ghanaian woman online and strikes up a relationship with her. His adult son is alarmed when he learns Gordon has been sending money to her. Gordon is convinced their relationship is legitimate and flies off to Ghana to meet this woman where he learns he is indeed a victim of a scam. Instead of returning home immediately, he decides to stay for the planned duration of his trip and investigate. Then he goes missing.
Emma Djan has always wanted to be a homicide detective like her father. When her rookie career as a police officer is derailed, she is hired at a private detective agency. Derek Tilson, Gordon's son, hires the agency to investigate his father's disappearance.
The sophistication of the internet scams was very interesting. I enjoyed the atmospheric setting and the immersion into Ghanaian culture. The writing and pacing left me wanting more although I loved the last chapter. This was a middle of the road read for me, but I would be willing to visit Ghana with Kwei Quartey again.
Gordon Tilson, a middle-aged American widower, falls prey to an online scam. Unlike similar victims who would rather quietly let it go for fear of ridicule, he decides so conduct in own investigation - in Accra, Ghana. After a few months of ruffling feathers, Gordon disappears. His son, Derek, half-Ghanian by birth, travels to Ghana to search for his father.
The novel explores the Ghanian sakawa system (similar to the Nigerian 419 schemes) in depth, including some very interesting (true) cyber soft- and hardware that make these schemes so believable. The information was fascinating and I now understand these systems much better. The nature of these scams and the corruption preventing exposure are cleverly interlinked with the search for the missing American.
The author was born in Ghana and his intimate knowledge of the country and culture is clear and convincing. I did find the grammar a bit unusual at times (people kiss their teeth when annoyed and say ‘please’ where the word would normally not be appropriate) but it added to the Ghanian setting and the magic of the novel.
Although there were too many co-incidences to my liking, I really enjoyed reading this book. The facts that were mingled with the fiction were especially interesting and Ghana is beautifully described, leaving me feeling that I had actually been there.
A strong 3.5 stars. I loved visiting Ghana for this dark adventure. It's a compelling mystery with a good deal of action. It was interesting to get a look into the world of internet scammers and the role spiritualists play in African culture. The story line was interesting, and the short chapters kept things moving along. Not rated higher due to the simple writing style and lack of depth to the characters. Would make a great movie in the right hands. (For mysteries with an African setting, I'd give the slight edge to Michael Stanley's Kubu mysteries set in Botswana.)
This was fabulous! I've already downloaded the second Emma Djan Investigation, I so want to spend more time in Accra, Ghana with Emma.
We don't meet Emma until several chapters into this mystery, after we've met other key characters, including the sakawa (internet scammer) Nii and the fetish priest Ponsu, and been introduced to some of the political themes, corruption, and crimes which impact this murder mystery. Emma's dream is to become a homicide detective like her late father. After graduating from the police academy, Emma is assigned to the mind-numbing, soul-destroying boredom of housing fraud in Commercial Crimes, with little or no chance of ever realizing her dream. After a certain traumatic event, Emma is dismissed for life from the police force. Though demoralized and uncertain, Emma finds herself hired by one of the reputable and successful private detective agencies. There she works on the case of a missing white American, Gordon, a man who had come to Ghana to meet a woman he'd met online and to whom he had sent money. I'm sure you can guess, this is one of those internet scams, where such a woman does not exist, of course. When Gordon fails to come home, his son Derek arrives in Ghana to search for him. After getting no real help from the police or the US Embassy, he hires Emma's company. At the final satisfactory (and in some respects surprising) conclusion of all the plot threads, Emma has gained confidence and come into her own.
This is a complex, well-crafted murder mystery that takes you deep into the world of all those internet scams that to this day find their way into our social media pages and emails. Ghana along with Nigeria are the centers for these scams, which actually originated in one form or another in Nigeria in the 1920s. I thought the author did a very good job of explaining that world while keepng the pace of the mystery moving forward. However, it perhaps went on a little too much disclosing just how these scams are managed. Also, there are a couple of time and event jumps that are quite abrupt, as well as some flashbacks late in the book that confused me initially. But those really do not detract for one's immersion in the mystery.
This is from Soho Crime, one of my favorite mystery publishers, and it's up for 2021 Edgar for Best Novel. I suspect I'm going to read the 2nd Emma Djan sooner than later.
This is billed as "sunshine noir", a mix of international mystery & thriller. On one hand, the beginning seemed a little long as various pieces of the story were introduced (including the career background & trajectory since this is the first of a new series), but by the end, the pace definitely picked up & all the various pieces fell into place. The chapters are short, often jumping between characters &/or the timeline as the novel unfolds. (Only one chapter seemed gratuitous & probably could have been omitted without a problem.) I enjoyed the intermittent use of Ghanaian words (there's a glossary), the very clear way that politeness in Ghanaian society is mixed into everything in the story (characters often add "please" to their sentences), & the descriptions of daily life. It's also very on topic with internet scams, corrupt police, & greedy politicians, to name a few things.
I enjoyed this one. And now I really want to try kelewele (spiced fried plantains) & really enjoyed learning the term chale-wote, described in the glossary as:
"(cha-LAY-wo-tay) flip-flops (literally, "Let's go, buddy," for the ease with which one slips on this footwear)"
I usually read novels set in the U.S., so it was fun to switch it up and read this novel set primarily in Ghana. Also, like anyone who uses email, for years I've gotten spam solicitations from Nigerian and Ghanaian scam artists; and The Missing American gives an inside view of these scammers and their victims. All of the main characters - cops, crooks, victims, and their families - are treated with graciousness and respect by the author. There's a Ghanaian college grad who can't make a living, so he turns to scamming; a white American widower whose wife was Ghanaian, who gets taken in by a romance scan; a young Ghanaian investigator who leaves the police when she's sexually assaulted by her boss, and becomes a P.I.; a wealthy Ghanaian woman who is willing to go to any lengths for her autistic son; and a variety of other complex characters, all of whom I found intriguing. This novel succeeds as a crime novel, a portrait of a society, and a fun read.
I must admit I liked the book from the other series by this author a lot more. I don't mind a long start-to-corpse (or in this case disappearing) but we get way too much backstory on the various characters. That leads me to the second complaint - while I don't mind convoluted plots, here the various plot threads were almost entirely separate and some of them simply were unnecessary and detracted from the main story, which due to this was absurdly short and straightforward. My biggest complaint is however how naive and incompetent the various villains were. It made sense for teenage scammers but if the big mafia godfather reveals his identity to any guy who kills a crocodile and brings him a shirt from an autistic boy, then we have a problem. Of course not all was bad, the main protagonist was really interesting, much more than the one from the other series and setting is described in a very interesting way and we get a lot of information on the internet scams.
The Missing American was an underwhelming read for me. The mystery is pretty slow paced and I found several of the twists easy to see coming. The large cast of characters were interesting, particularly Emma's brother Bruno. I wish there had been more character development of our main character, Emma. She came across a bit one-dimensional and was characterized largely by her relationship to others in her life, rather than who she was as an individual.
This is one author that does not ever disappoint when it is comes delivery. The missing American set in Ghana narrates the misfortune that follows an American after getting involved in an Internet scam. From this book it is easy to deduce that the issues with fraud goes way deeper in the police system. You'll find out that most police officials are more dangerous than the sakawa boys because of greed This is definitely a page turner worth every penny and time
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
My first experience with what has become known as an “internet scam” actually arrived in the form of a snail-mail letter that I received in 1994. The sender advised me that there was 13 million AMD in the account of a deceased citizen in Nigeria that I could acquire if I would be willing to turn over my bank account information and tender in advance an amount equal to a (relatively) small commission plus transmittal fees. These have become much more sophisticated over the course of the last quarter-century, while adding emotional and romantic involvement as yet another hook to sink into a potential victim.
Author Kwei Quartey, whose critically acclaimed Inspector Darko Dawson books have acquired a steadily increasing readership, uses the Ghanian internet scam business to introduce private investigator Emma Djan in THE MISSING AMERICAN, the first of what hopefully will be a long-running series.
Most of the book takes place in Accra, Ghana, and its surrounding environs. Indeed, Quartey wastes little time in setting up his storyboard. Ghana Police Service Constable Emma Djan’s hope was to follow her deceased father’s career path as a homicide detective, but she is making the best of her assignment in the busy yet unexciting Commercial Crimes Unit. When she is given the chance to join the homicide division, she jumps at it. However, her refusal to compromise her principles in a nightmarish vignette during her interview for the position causes her to lose both the opportunity and her job in the police department.
Emma is tossed a lifeline when a former colleague sets her up for an interview with the Sowah Detective Agency, a private investigation firm that is one of only two such agencies in Accra that is fully licensed and vetted. She is immediately hired and almost as quickly gets her baptism by fire when the firm is retained by an American named Derek Tilson. Derek has come to Accra out of concern for the safety of his father, Gordon. The senior Tilson, a widower, had developed an online relationship with a woman from Accra and had sent her several thousand dollars to cover her sister’s emergency hospital bills. Gordon decided to journey to Accra to meet his soulmate in person, but discovered upon his arrival that she does not exist. He resolved to use his time in Accra to find out who was scamming him. Derek has journeyed there and retained the Sowah firm after not hearing from him for a few weeks.
Emma’s investigation plunges her and Derek into the world of the “sakawa boys,” who practice fraud on an international basis by utilizing a unique combination of cutting-edge software and internet schemes with traditional witch doctor magic. She attempts to determine Gordon’s fate while bringing the people who defrauded him to justice. There are several investigative and cultural twists and turns that Emma must navigate, but what she lacks in experience she more than makes up for with a canny intelligence and dogged determination that helps see her to a most satisfactory, if somewhat bittersweet, conclusion.
Anyone with more than a passing interest in the world of internet scamming must read THE MISSING AMERICAN, with its extremely realistic heroine and unblinking assessment of cultural similarities and differences between the United States and Ghana. I also must give a tip of the fedora to Quartey and his publisher, Soho Crime, for the book’s extensive glossary for those of us interested in broadening our vocabularies. Well played, and strongly recommended.