If you love a child, or children generally, Kwei Quartey’s Children of the Street can be difficult to read: in the second book in the series, Darko Dawson seems to be the only person in Accra (capital of Ghana) who notices or cares that street children are being killed and mutilated, left in a succession of degrading locations that indicate someone truly despises them.
The first victim is a teenage boy, who though living on the streets has a girlfriend he loves and other kids who care what happens to him. Inspector Dawson isn’t afraid to go into the worst slums, and he cares enough to try to help the kids in what little ways he can, despite the fact that everyone else seems to find street kids a nuisance at best.
While he continues to investigate the case, despite the complaints of his superior officer who thinks he should be working on an investigation that actually matters, Darko also has a number of personal problems, first and foremost his ailing son, whose medical care he cannot afford, but also a marijuana problem that could be a career problem as well. There’s a mother-in-law whom he can’t trust with his son, and a fellow officer who’s trying to use a family connection to leapfrog Darko on the career ladder.
As in his first book, Wife of the Gods, Quartey brings many aspects of Ghana to life, in a much darker and grittier series than Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ series set in Botswana, comparable instead to Adimchinma Ibe‘s Nigeria. Although reading about the street children is heartbreaking, there are also people like Darko Dawson who are trying to help them, and the children themselves, who build friendships and create support networks, are not to be pitied but helped.