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'Wife Of The Gods': A West African Medical Mystery

Dec 26, 2009 (Weekend Edition Sunday)

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In Dr. Kwei Quartey's debut novel, Wife of the Gods: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery, Inspector Darko Dawson leaves the bustling Ghanaian capital city of Accra to investigate the murder of a young medical student who was volunteering for an anti-AIDS program. The case brings Inspector Dawson to the deep forests of Ghana's remote interior, where he encounters a conflict familiar to many in the country: science versus superstition.

This is a topic of particular interest for Quartey, who practices medicine in California, but was raised in Ghana. He spoke to Weekend Edition Sunday host Liane Hansen about the role of mysticism in the lives of some Ghanaians.

"I understand that something like 70-to-80 percent of Ghanaians have at some point accessed the care of a traditional healer," says Quartey. In the book, even the murder of the young medical student is interpreted by the locals as witchcraft, a result of her work with a group of women known as the trokosi, or "wives of the gods."

The wives of the gods are women or girls among a small population in a particular region of Ghana who, according to Quartey, are given over to a type of priest to atone for the crimes of their families.

"They do a lot of hard work for him," Quartey says of the trokosi. "And once they've reached puberty, he has sex with them." In Wife of the Gods, the murdered AIDS worker was trying to warn the women about their risk of contracting an STD from the priest for whom they were working.

Quartey points out that there are many similarities between his life as a doctor and his work as a mystery writer, since both involve following clues to reach a conclusion.

"When a detective interviews a suspect or a witness, it's very much like a physician interviewing a patient, because a patient comes in with something that is often a mystery on its own," he says. "And in the end, when the doctor makes his diagnosis, it's exactly like the detective finding the culprit."

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