Kent, G W - 'One Blood'
""You can be a considerable nuisance," said Kella.
Young Sister Conchita has organised an open day at the Marakosi Mission. A surprisingly large crowd of visitors have arrived, not just curious islanders but even a party of American tourists. It is 1960 and the fact that Senator John F Kennedy is standing as US Presidential candidate attracts even more tourists to the Solomon Islands. Those who know their naval history recall that this is where Kennedy's patrol boat was sunk by a Japanese destroyer during World War Two. Kennedy and his fellow survivors were marooned for a time on one of the islands before being rescued from the Japanese by Islanders. Sister Conchita takes a break from chivvying the three elderly and eccentric nuns of the mission into taking part in activities and seeks the quiet of the chapel. There she finds one of the tourist party who is clearly anxious and who jokes nervously about sanctuary. The incident will come back to haunt her when, later that day, Sister Conchita hurries to the celebratory bonfire prematurely set ablaze and finds the tourist's body lying amongst the flames. Some days later she is surprised when Sergeant Kella of the Solomon Islands Police arrives; not to investigate the death of the tourist, as she expects, but to investigate possible sabotage at an international company's logging camp on a nearby island. The Sergeant knows nothing about the tourist's death and Sister Conchita wonders why. Ben Kella is not only an educated Islander but he is also an "aofia", a hereditary spiritual "peacemaker" amongst his people. With a wary relationship these two spiritual practitioners set out to follow their separate investigative paths into worldly crimes. When the mysteries deepen and the presence of a small group of American "tourists" implies the existence of a shadowy political organisation with interests outside of the Islands, the plot heats up to a whole parcel of suspenseful journeys amongst the Islands as Sister Conchita and Sergeant Kella's investigations converge.
Graeme Kent was head of BBC Schools Broadcasting in the Solomon Islands for eight years. He is also an experienced writer with many published titles under his belt including several sports histories. ONE BLOOD is his second crime novel set in the Solomon Islands and featuring the sparring investigative team of the young American nun Sister Conchita and Police Sergeant Ben Kella. The Solomon Islands setting and culture is lovingly described alongside the implications of life in a region on the cusp of independence. The educated and travelled Ben Kella must put up with the hostility of his superior officers who largely consist of "African retreads"; those who have spent their working lives in colonies of "The Empire" such as the Gold Coast or the Cameroon. Later in the book Kent describes a frosty incident when Kella and Mary Gui, another Islander, enter the colonially elite Mendana Hotel for a drink together. With this early 1960s setting we get a view of a world on the point of change; a growing awareness of environmentalism, cultural and political heritages, and even gender inequalities, this last when it comes to Sister Conchita's role within the Missionís hierarchy as a temporary head awaiting the arrival of a replacement priest.
Unlike the bleak "noir" tradition of a lot of current European-based crime fiction, ONE BLOOD's plot lies closer to the territory of mainstream whodunnit; profit and politics loom larger than dark impulse. I would recommend ONE BLOOD to anyone attracted by a combination of traditional crime mystery, subtle observation of social change in a part of the world and at a time which few of us have first hand knowledge, and the unmistakeable lure of the tropics.
Lynn Harvey, England
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