Thursday, June 24, 2021

Killman by Graeme Kent

 

First Line: The twenty naked young virgins undulated slowly in front of Sister Conchita and the morose visiting female academic on the plateau next to the waterfall above the saltwater village.
 
It is young Sister Conchita's misfortune to find the drowned body of Papa Noah, head of the Church of the Blessed Ark, outside the ark he's been building with so much care. Since this is the third death by drowning on the island of Malaita (two of them with no nearby source of water), rumors immediately begin to circulate that there is a Japanese soldier, a killman, on the loose unwilling to admit that the war has been over for fifteen years. Within days, Sister Conchita's mission is inundated with islanders in search of a safe place from the killman.

While she's dealing with a packed mission and a visit from a formidable man known as the bishop's fixer, Sergeant Ben Kella has his own problems. He's been taken to task by the elders of the islands for his absence and his neglect of local problems. It's not Kella's fault that his superior has sent him on one useless assignment after another for months at a time, but the elders refuse to accept excuses from their custom-law enforcer-- a type of island law enforcement officer who takes the islanders' various religious beliefs into account as he dispenses justice.

There's a potentially deadly religious confrontation brewing in the Solomon Islands, and Sergeant Ben Kella and Sister Conchita are right in the middle of it.

~

Graeme Kent's Sergeant Ben Kella and Sister Conchita historical mystery series is perfect for the armchair traveler, and it's so good that I'd almost give my right arm to have more than three books in the series. The first book, Devil-Devil, was a Best Read of 2011, the second, One Blood, was a Best Read of 2012, and Killman came very close to being a Best Read this year. I am so glad I found it while doing some research.

I am of an age where I remember Japanese soldiers being found in the jungle in areas like the Solomon Islands, either not knowing or refusing to believe that World War II was over twenty and thirty years after the fact. Since Killman is set in the Solomons in 1960, this is a perfect thing to incorporate in a mystery involving mysterious deaths.

Another strong element in the mystery is that of religion. Christianity (and not just Catholicism) has a strong hold in the Solomon Islands, but there are still many who hold on to their pagan beliefs with their strong attachments to the natural world. What Kent brought to life for me was the very real danger of a type of religious war involving the differing beliefs of Christians and of those peoples living in saltwater villages as opposed to those living in the bush (jungle). 

The various religions aren't the only things that Kent brings to life. The Solomon Islands themselves play a major role. I can feel myself walking along a beach and breathing in the sea air... or being covered in sweat and slapping mosquitoes as I travel through the jungle and up into the mountains. There are political aspects to life in the islands. The Japanese are showing interest in the natural resources to be found there, and the Americans are showing interest in the Japanese. It's a land still struggling through the aftermath of World War II. Of all the equipment left behind by both the Japanese and the Americans. Of all the wreckage littering land and sea from the battles for Guadalcanal and the other islands. 

Kent does such a marvelous job of putting readers in the midst of life in the Solomons. Of the tremendous navigational skills of the Polynesians. Of the eighty different dialects spoken there. Of the towering banyan trees, symbols of eternal life. And of island occupations such as that of tree shouter. It is such a rich culture! One of the characters is an academic gathering island songs for a book she's writing. Kent uses her as an example of the danger academics can face in traveling to remote areas on fact-finding missions. (Whom do you trust to tell you the truth?)

The major thing that makes learning about the area so enjoyable is the pair of Sergeant Ben Kella and Sister Conchita. A young Catholic nun from Boston, Sister Conchita chose her name because she thought she was going to be posted to South America, and she wanted a name that the people would find familiar. She thought wrong, but she has adapted to life in the South Pacific beautifully and has become the mainstay of the mission. She also has a flair for deduction which Sergeant Ben Kella reluctantly admits is useful. As Sister Conchita shows us life from an outsider's point of view, Kella has the insider's side of the story, and it's the blending of the two that makes this series so special.

I could wax poetic about this book... the entire series... for page after page, but I won't. This is a series that I hope all of you will give a try, especially if books with a strong sense of place are your favorites. Give island life a try. You can't have two better guides than Sister Conchita and Sergeant Ben Kella.

Killman by Graeme Kent
eISBN: 9781472104762
Constable & Robinson © 2013
eBook, 272 pages
 
Historical Mystery, #3 Sergeant Ben Kella & Sister Conchita mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon.

12 comments:

  1. Glad you liked it. I read Devil-Devil years ago, and I remember telling about the life of Indigenous people in the Solomon Islands to a friend.
    I didn't know Japanese soldiers were found in the forests 20 to 30 years after WWII. I wonder what they ate or where they slept or if they were still fighting.
    I don't know if I'll read this one, only because my TBR list is gigantic, with lots of notes with book names piled up around here, and a slew of books on library hold. It is dangerous to read readers' blogs and NY Times and other crime book reviews (or other novels).
    One draw: I am fascinated with Indigeous peoples' religious practices and beliefs. If I was a religious person, I'd identify with Native peoples' beliefs here and elsewhere, where they consider the Earth sacred and every living thing on it.

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    1. If I were a teenager, I'd be calling you a City Girl right about now. There are plenty of places to sleep and hide as well as food to eat in the jungles of those islands. For the most part, I think they were hiding and not fighting. Being on the losing side was a tremendous loss of face, and they didn't want to go home.

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  2. This does sound good, Cathy. I'm not as familiar with the Solomon Islands as I might be, so the setting and background interest me right away. And it is interesting to explore indigenous belief systems. They really are woven into a lot of people's ways of thinking, and I find that fascinating.

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  3. I've never read anything set in the Solomon Islands, so this series might be a good new one to beging.

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    1. Especially since it's a trilogy. This wouldn't be a long-term commitment. ;-)

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  4. You've convinced me...I have to try this series! :D

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  5. Like you, I remember how those isolated Japanese soldiers were still surrendering decades after the war ended. Seems like I remember a large Life Magazine spread about one who finally came out of his cave hideout and gave himself up...or maybe, got captured by authorities. This sounds fascinating.

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    1. I think I remember the same magazine spread, Sam.

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  6. I was intrigued by this series and now that I have read your review, I will give it a try!

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    1. I certainly hope you get a chance to sample it and that you enjoy it, Gretchen!

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