Friday 7 December 2012

Food of Ghosts by Marianne Wheelaghan

I don't often read crime fiction, so this isn't going to be a regular crime fiction review. However, having read Marianne's earlier book The Blue Suitcase (which I reviewed here) and having been invited to the launch of Food of Ghosts (a tropical themed event that brightened up a chilly Edinburgh evening) I was keen to buy and read this, Marianne's debut crime novel!

Food for Ghosts is set on Tarawa, a coral atoll in the Pacific republic of Kiribati. It features Detective Sergeant Louisa Townsend, who was born in Tarawa but has lived most of her life in Edinburgh. She has only just got to the island when she finds herself investigating a violent murder case.

I thought the novel was excellent at conveying culture shock with an admirable honesty about the fact that sometimes you don't like the place you find yourself. (I remember this myself from when I first arrived in Malawi and there were certain aspects of the culture which I never got used to in the two years I lived there, much though overall I grew to love the country). As a writer you want to be respectful of a foreign culture you're writing about, but you also want to be honest. In Food of Ghosts the reader can really empathise with Louise's discomfort with the culture shock she experiences, not least her extended family deciding that the best way to welcome her to the island is to camp in her back garden.

Many of you will have realised by now, that the books I review on this blog have some sort of environmental content. Food of Ghosts doesn't have an environmental focus (the rising sea levels that threaten Kiribati are present as an issue only in the mind of an informed reader) and nature is very much in the background most of the time. However, the action takes to the water often enough for there to be several passages about the underwater wildlife, this one showing how the benign beauty of the surroundings can hide a threatening danger:

'It was like being in a massive aquarium, but better: clown fish scurried between forms of red coral; wave after wave of silver slithers did the loop the loop; a bunch of toothy, multi-coloured parrot fish five bombed an oblivious gliding ray. She didn't know how long she's been snorkelling aimlessly  for when she saw the turtle. It paddled on the sea floor before swimming further and further into the cavernous ocean. Curiously, Louisa followed it. The water became cloudy. The outline of the turtle grew fuzzier. Louisa kicked faster. Then it was gone and she was alone in the grey green vastness of the bottomless sea.'

It's a very readable story, set in a fascinating location and with an intriguing cast of characters both Kiribati and expatriate.

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more. 


Bill said...

I used to teach a course in Crime & Detective Fiction, possibly the first ever offered at an accredited American college. And my big brother was once stationed on Tarawa. Two reasons I'm glad to know of this book.

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Very engaging story. The setting reminds of a powerful novel ...I had regularly goose bumps reading it and I will never forget it, there's a fearful crime in it although it's not a crime story, the title is "Mister Pip" by Lloyd Jones, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2007.

eileeninmd said...

Great review, Juliet! Thanks for sharing, I will have to check out this book.

RG said...

I dunno. It will have to go on a big pile that I have amassed and am not making very fast headway.

I'm trying to read Ray Bradbury Dandelion Wine. So far I can't understand why.

bunnits said...

I was just looking for something new to read. Need to get a copy of this one. It appeals to the anthropologist in me as well as my love of the genre.

Marianne Wheelaghan said...

Hi Juliet, thank you so much for your wonderful review of Food of Ghosts. I am so glad you enjoyed it, especially given you don't usually read crime fiction. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this. Thanks again. And hello to Bill, what a small world! I hope you find Food of Ghosts engaging (was your brother on Tarawa for the Battle of Tarawa? That would be have been very, very traumatic.) And hello to Tommaso, Thanks for showing an interest in Food of Ghosts and for the Mister Pip book tip :)

Crafty Green Poet said...

Bill - that sounds like an interesting course to have taught! Tommaso - I also enjoyed Mister Pip!
Marianne - you're welcome!