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.
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