Friday, May 11, 2012

Off The Beaten Track: Kwei Quartey’s Murder in Paradise

Kwei Quartey was born in Ghana and raised by an African-American mother and a Ghanaian father, both of whom were university lecturers. Even though his professional writing career began after he became a physician, his desire to be a writer began at the early age of eight. Kwei Quartey’s debut novel, WIFE OF THE GODS, was released by Random House Publishers in July 2009. CHILDREN OF THE STREET is his second work (2011), and his third, MURDER AT CAPE THREE POINTS, which features Ghana’s new oil industry as a backdrop, comes out mid-2013. Kwei Quartey now lives in Pasadena, California. He writes early in the morning before setting out to work at HealthCare Partners, where he runs a wound care clinic. 

Forty miles off the coast of Ghana in the Atlantic Ocean’s Gulf of Guinea is a drilling rig belonging to Malgam Oil, a multinational petroleum company that has been operating in Ghana’s territorial waters for 18 months. Large offshore reserves were discovered there in 2007, and production began 40 months later in 2010.

A semi-submersible rig used by Malgam Oil

Malgam’s oil rig is protected by the Ghana Navy Service (GNS), which often finds itself in conflict with Ghanaian fishermen who venture far out to sea to catch fish with large nets that can get snagged on oil drilling installations. Fishing canoes are not allowed to approach the rig within a 500-meter radius.

Four months ago, a fisherman’s 12-foot-long canoe breached that boundary, and the rig’s oil installation manager alerted the GNS. A man and woman occupied the vessel, but they weren’t paddling it. There was good reason for that: they were dead. Two corpses crumpled together in the floor of the canoe, both shot in the head at close range.

A shocking turn of events. Fictional, as it turns out. Although there really is an oil rig 40 miles off Ghana’s coast, it belongs to Tullow, not the imaginary “Malgam,” and the tale of the corpse-containing canoe is from the opening scene of my upcoming novel, Murder at Cape Three Points.

However, there’s nothing fictional about the geographic location of Cape Three Points in the Western Region of Ghana. In 2011 when I chose to include its name in the title of my novel, I hadn’t yet visited the spot. When I finally made it there in March 2012, I discovered I had unknowingly selected an extraordinarily lovely site to set a murder. Sometimes called the “land nearest nowhere,” because it is the closest land to a central point on the globe that is zero latitude, longitude and altitude, its name derives from three peninsulas that jut parallel to each other into the Atlantic.

The small fishing village of Cape Three Points lies on the center peninsula. 

Shoreline at the Cape Three Points Village, where fishing is the main livelihood

I went up into the working lighthouse that affords magnificent views over the bay.

Cape Three Points lighthouse, one of Ghana's five lighthouses
View of the bay from the lighthouse, with the third peninsula in the background
Walking some distance from the lighthouse, I came to stand at the edge of a cliff, at the bottom of which is a majestic spectacle of sight and sound. The waves crashing against the rocks send up a gossamer spray that stays suspended in the air for a few seconds before dissipating.


I wouldn't go any closer to the edge if I were you.

It's a spectacular show of sight and sound.
My murder plot mind always at work, I couldn’t help thinking about how perfectly awful it would be for someone to slip, fall and be dashed against those cruel rocks. Accidentally, of course.

Both a beautiful and treacherous landscape

Indeed, on seeing the young man pictured above fishing off the craggy cliffs, I did think about such a scenario for my plot, but I decided not to fiddle with what I already had – a corpse-carrying canoe adrift in the Atlantic Ocean.

How could this canoe with its dead bodies have gotten so far out to sea? It was probably towed by another canoe under paddle, wind or motor power. Many are surprised that fishermen go out as far as forty to fifty miles from the shore to catch fish, but they do. Ghana now faces a crisis of rapidly dwindling fish populations. Fishermen claim that the oil industry is making the situation even worse, which the petroleum folks deny. Hence the animosity between the two groups.

There are lots of places along the lovely coast of Ghana’s Western Region where you could quietly launch a canoe at night with a couple of dead bodies, like Ezile Bay, an almost achingly lovely location a few kilometers from Cape Three Points village.

This is a scene right out my novel, Murder At Cape Three Points

I recommend you select a less moonlit night for your nefarious deed, however.

Ezile Bay Village is a small and delightful resort owned by French couple Olivier and Danielle Funfschilling.


Dawn at Ezile Bay
Mid-morning low tide at Ezile Bay
Hilltop view of Ezile Bay with the village of Akwidaa in the background
Akwidaa fishermen coming home

There are many sinister countryside settings in the mystery-writing tradition – think of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles or The Adventure of the Speckled Band, which is said to have been inspired by a story recounted in 1891 by a captain who had been dispatched to West Africa. But there’s also something chilling about murder in beautiful places, where one doesn’t expect to come across heinous crimes.

In Murder at Cape Three Points, there is another uncomfortable juxtaposition: wild beauty against the threat of an oil spill that could mar the incomparable setting like the slash of a knife across the face of a beautiful woman. Such a catastrophe could jeopardize the wildlife that exists at Cape Three Points and points offshore, including dolphins and whales. In an environment as stunning as this, that would be like murder in paradise.

Cape Three Points Village

6 comments:

  1. Sounds really interesting Kwei. Particularly the link to the oil industry and setting in West Africa. I too keep coming up with murder plots while wandering through beautiful places. I look forward to the the book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And nice photos! I really need to visit.

      Delete
  2. Hey Kwei, looks like it's going to be a great book. Can't wait to read it. You did a wonderful job with selecting the location.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Alice R. O'GradyMay 14, 2012 at 3:24 PM

    You make me want to visit the place; maybe I will on my next visit to Ghana. That, of course, has to be AFTER I read your book.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Murder in paradise--one of my favorite elements in a good book! Thanks for sharing some information about your book's setting. Very interesting. And the photos are great!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Agree, the backdrop of the oil industry in this scenic location.... ripe for a great mystery novel! Love the photo tour as well. Can't wait to read the new book.

    ReplyDelete