Friday, April 22, 2016


RHYS BOWEN: One of the benefits of being part of Jungle Red Writers, apart from the incredible
sense of community we've established, is learning about new authors. Kwei Quartey is someone I hadn't read before but when I heard that he grew up reading Enid Blyton, I felt an immediate connection. I absolutely lived the Famous Five and the Secret Seven when I was a child.  A perfect grounding for anyone who wanted to be a crime writer in later life. So I'm delighted to introduce him to you now: 
KWEI QUARTEY: When I was a boy of about ten living in Ghana, West Africa, I entered a writing contest with an essay I called "My Ambitions." The list included becoming a teacher, veterinarian, ventriloquist, artist, pop star, and a writer. The latter stayed with me the longest. My childhood home was full of books, and I continually found new ones to read. The genre that attracted me most was crime fiction. I consumed mysteries by British children's author, Enid Blyton, who isn't very well known in the States but is still published widely in the British Commonwealth. Sometimes I was up to two Blyton novels in a day. Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes was another series in which I immersed myself.

All those books around me at home stimulated me to write, and my black American mother and Ghanaian father—both lecturers at the University of Ghana—encouraged my efforts. I wrote several short stories and three novellas, which I covered with cardboard jackets I illustrated myself. One was called, "Cougar, Hero Of The Jungle." Another was about a group of five kids who went around solving mysteries. I wrote them in longhand (until I learned to type later on) and bound them with jacket covers I illustrated myself. Nowadays, we call that self-publishing.

By the time I was a teenager, I had chosen medicine as my intended profession. When I was nineteen, the death of my father, awful political and economic conditions in Ghana, and my brush with the military government (another story altogether) drove my mother to return to her native New York with my three brothers and me. By then, I was in premed and faced the task of getting into a US medical school. It wasn't easy. Eventually, I succeeded in gaining admission to Howard University College of Medicine, where I got my MD degree.

During medical school and residency training, I did no creative writing at all, but once my boards were out of the way, I rediscovered my love for writing fiction. It was to be a couple of decades before I created Inspector Darko Dawson, the hero of my present murder mystery series. Each novel, including the upcoming April 26 release, GOLD OF OUR FATHERS, is set in Ghana.
I live in the States, but my connections to my birthplace will remain strong, especially since I visit Ghana once or twice a year to conduct research. I pick an outstanding Ghanaian social issue (what country doesn't have them?) and then I work a murder and story into it.

Ghana was called the “Gold Coast” until its independence in 1957. In the fifteenth century, Europeans had known the West African coastal region as the source of the gold that reached North Africa via the trans-Saharan trade roots. Gold had been sold to Europe at least as early as the tenth century. When the Portuguese came to the shores of the Gold Coast in 1471, they called their landing area La Mina, or The Mine, a reference to the gold they discovered. That name became corrupted to the present-day Elmina, a town in the Central Region of Ghana.
The phenomenon of foreigners raiding Ghana's resources hasn't ceased since as far back as the 15th century. To this day, the British still have an ancient gold mask purloined from the Ashanti Region in 1874.

Around 2010, Chinese illegal miners in the tens of thousands began immigrating to that same Ashanti Region in search of gold. A couple of years later, I read an article detailing an exchange of gunfire between Ghanaian police officers and Chinese nationals. Two fatalities resulted, and the story was a diplomatic embarrassment for both Ghana and China. But to me, it spelled murder mystery, igniting my creative energies and setting up my next novel in the Inspector Darko Dawson series.
Before I set off to Ghana to conduct research, I had been aware that digging for gold involved substantial disturbance of farmlands and lush forests, but I had not realized the intensity of destruction the illegal gold miners had inflicted on the landscape. During my expeditions into the remote interior of the Ashanti Region, I was stunned by the vast swathes of land laid waste by excavators and earthmovers.

As I explored, what emerged was a milieu rich with conflict and corruption. Some of the locals battled with the Chinese, who had obliterated cocoa farms and palm groves, but village chiefs—whom the Chinese paid off—welcomed the foreigners. Young Ghanaians, attracted by the quick and easy way to make money from gold, were uninterested in the slow business of farming cocoa, and thus generational resentments arose. Throw in harsh, squalid conditions and jittery mine guards with pump action rifles, and I had a story to tell of the dirty, ugly side of gold.

Of all the human and social conditions I have researched for my detective series, I found this one the most affecting. The environment has always mattered to me wherever I've lived, but what dismayed me about what I found in the Ashanti Region was the enabling role Ghanaians played as the Chinese illegals bulldozed their way across the land. I tried to convey this complicated relationship in GOLD OF OUR FATHERS, and I experienced a torn feeling over a grim reality that was so perfect a setup for a fictional work.   

RHYS: Doesn't this sound absolutely fascinating? I love reading about places and situations I knew nothing about before, how about you?


Joan Emerson said...

Rhys, I, too, enjoy reading about new places and situations; stories that introduce me to new places while spinning out an intriguing tale are a special treat.
“Gold of our Fathers” sounds like a fascinating book, Kwei, and I am looking forward to reading it . . . .

Reine said...

Dear Kwei, I am very pleased to read of your books here. It sounds that you must have a great lot of stories to tell. I believe I will be one of your solid readers. It is interesting to read of your medical education. I was a resident counselor/advisor at a medical school, and several students who worked with me became book authors. Most, I think, wrote about medicine, but several have written excellent fiction.

I am a fan of murder mysteries in particular, and I am looking forward to reading yours.

Many thanks to Rhys for this blog that introduced me to your writing.

Edith Maxwell said...

How intriguing, and I'm delighted to discover you, Kwei. I traveled through Ghana from north to south (we were living in Burkina Faso for a year) with my family at Christmas of 1998 and we spent a night in Elmina. Such a beautiful country, so I'm sorry it's being destructively mined. You're right - a perfect breeding ground for murder.

Kait Carson said...

Amazing, what a wonderful story, both your personal one and the fictional one you describe in your book. The photos of the gold mining area reminded m of strip mining areas I've seen in West Virginia. A true rape of the land, and fertile ground for murder and mayhem. I'm looking forward to reading Gold of Our Fathers.

Mary Sutton said...

This sounds (a little) like what we're experiencing in SW PA with fracking - beautiful landscape dotted with drills and torn up in search of Marcellus Shale gas. Although not to this level. Any time poverty and money collide, it's sure to be a rich source of conflict.

Hallie Ephron said...

Fascinating - a story worth telling. Human beings do shocking things in the name of greed. Your post had me looking up Enid Blyton. She wrote a ton of books. I wonder if they hold up.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Isn't it funny/wonderful how a mystery author looks at the world a different/good/special way? When you said--that meant murder mystery, I had to smile. Love that.

And yes, who is Enid Blyton?

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Congrats on the latest book, Kwei! Can't wait to read it! You know I'm an Inspector Darko Dawson fan!

Anonymous said...

Rhys, thank you for introducing us to a new author. Look forward to reading the new series.


Deborah Crombie said...

Hallie, Hank, Enid Blyton is probably the most beloved British children's author. They're more adventure than mystery. I didn't read them growing up, but Kayti discovered them on her first trip to England when she was six, and after that every time I went to the UK I had to bring back every Enid Blyton I could get my hands on. We still have them, and I hope will be introducing them to Wren in a few years.

Kwei, I was fascinated by your personal story, and by your descriptions of what is happening Ghana. Thanks for introducing us to your books, which I'm going to look up right now. (And if Susan loves your books, I'm sure we will, too!)

Susan said...

Kwei, your books sound very interesting. I will seek them out.

I love how a good fictional account can involve me in current events in a way that news reporting doesn't. I recently heard myself speaking quite passionately about some of the challenges facing the city of Venice, Italy, and realized my knowledge and certainly my passion were based strongly on Donna Leone's Inspector Brunetti books. I've read a little beyond her works because of the questions they provoked in my mind -- but the interest definitely came from her fictional works. It sounds to me like you have the potential to draw that same passionate interest in these issues in Ghana.

Kathy Reel said...

Kwei, what an interesting life you've lead thus far, and I love that the writing bug that bit you when you were a child wouldn't be denied when you became an adult. Ghana is not an area with which I am very familiar, but it's fascinating history and on-going gold issues are intriguing matters for reading. You must have been so heartbroken to see the destruction of your beautiful homeland by the most recent grab for gold. Gold of Our Fathers is a tale I want to read.

Oh, and I subscribe to Kwei's newsletter at It's an interesting read, too.

Kimberly Bristol said...

I can't wait to read your books, Kwei. The setting sounds so interesting. I'd love to read an account of your experiences in Ghana during the political turmoil, too.

My husband just mentioned Enid Blyton's books the other day. He grew up in Australia and loved them. He mentioned that he wants to get some for our daughter now that she's getting old enough for them.

Kwei Quartey said...

Kait, Mary, how sad that the image reminds you of similar destruction from somewhere thousands of miles from Ghana. It reminds us how unfortunately similar human beings can be in their greedy pursuits and how they stop at nothing.

Hallie, I haven't looked up an Enid Blyton recently, but hey probably would need some updating for today's youngsters. Deborah, did you read her "Mystery of..." series though? They were more like classic mysteries. My favorite was "The Mystery Of The Invisible Man," which had a nice twist at the end. The solution was so simple yet so baffling. As Poirot always asserted, the answer is often right under your nose.

Kathy, Ghana is rather unlike Nigeria in that it doesn't usually make the headlines--which is usually a good thing. One little fact of interest is that along with Cote d'Ivoire, its neighbor to the west, Ghana produces ALL the world's cocoa that goes into making chocolate. Can you imagine? Only two countries for the entire world. Ghana is also #2 in gold production after South Africa.

Kimberly, what happened to me during those military rule days is a story all on its own. I've been thinking of going on NPR's Moth Radio Hour to tell it. Viewed after so many years, it's rather funny, but back then it was very serious.

Thanks for all the comments and questions!