Review - Tail of the Blue Bird

By Nii Ayikwei Parkes

Nii Ayikwei Parkes’ multi-layered novel transports you into the heart of contemporary Ghana with its various tensions between rural superstition and urban corruption; the old and the new. The idea of progress comes in the human form of Kayo, a young forensic scientist who trained in England and worked as a crime officer with the West Midlands police.

Following the discovery of unidentified remains in the village of Sonokrom, Kayo is sent to investigate the crime by corrupt police inspector PJ Donker who dreams of a CSI-style investigation, which could lead to a hefty bonus and promotion. A year before, the Ghana police had turned down Kayo’s job application, citing its “ninety-nine per cent record in solving crimes through ‘specialised’ interrogation.” Now they threaten Kayo with imprisonment on trumped up charges of conspiracy unless he agrees to work for them.

Assigned an officer, Constable Garba, Kayo arrives with his forensics kit in the forest village. The small hut, where the remains were found, belongs to a local cocoa farmer called Kofi Atta, who has not been seen for some time. They take numerous photographs, bag DNA samples and dust for fingerprints, but when questioned the villagers are unforthcoming.

By deferring to the village elders and observing their rituals, Kayo manages to befriend the old hunter Opanyin Poku over numerous bowls of palm wine, laced with the local medicine man’s aphrodisiac potions. Only through listening to his tales of village life, does Kayo finally discover the truth behind the disappearance of the cocoa farmer and the maggot-infested remains.

Parkes is perhaps best known as a performance poet and I imagine the use of his native language works well in poetry readings. He employs Ghanaian dialogue throughout this charming debut novel. Although I can’t promise that an English readership will understand what it all means, by contributing a sense of rhythm and adding to the story’s mystique, the device works surprisingly well. This is crime fiction with a twist as potent and refreshing as palm-wine.

Originally published in Crimetime: