The Food of Ghosts, Marianne Wheelaghan
Food of Ghosts, Marianne Wheelaghan. Pilrig Press (2012), Kindle Edition, 310 pages.
A crime novel featuring a biracial female detective and set on small island in the nation of Kiribati in the middle of the Pacific.
Sargent Detective Louisa Townsend has been sent to Tarawa to train the local police force. The small coral island is part of the nation of Kiribati, a country which consists of 33 tiny islands located on the equator in the central Pacific. Louisa is the daughter of a woman from the island and a Scottish mechanic who worked there. The family had lived on Tarawa until Louisa was eight before moving to Scotland. Louisa’s father left his wife and daughter soon after, and Louisa grew up never feeling she belonged anywhere. Twenty-six years later she returned to Tarawa as the representative of a European group seeking to help train the local police. By chance, she is placed in charge of the investigation of a local murder. Because the eyes have been gorged out of the corpus, some people claim the killing was done by a ghost. Although Louisa has been part of teams investigating murders in Edinburgh, now she is alone without the backup on which she has previously depended. Louisa is an obsessive woman with few social skills. She often alienates those whose help she most needs. She belongs neither to the British “expats” on the island nor to the local community. Although her mother is from the island, the only relative she recognizes is a cousin whom she hires to clean her house. As Louisa tries to solve her case, more murders surface. She is herself endangered, and she finally releases some of her obsessions. It is among her island relatives that Louisa eventually finds a place for herself.
Marianne Wheelaghan was born and raised in Scotland, but she left at 17 to live and work around the world for 25 years. Among the places she lived was Kiribati, where she taught English. She obviously knows the island of Tarawa where the mystery takes place. Her treatment of the local people is largely positive, at least more positive than of the British who live on the island, but she never delves deeply into their thoughts or feelings.
Mystery lovers will probably enjoy this book, especially because of its unique setting. This month, Wheelaghan’s second novel featuring Louisa, Double Deaths and Double Lives, is scheduled to be published.
Readers of this novel may be interested in an article about Kiribati, its problems, and its planning for climate change.