Monday, February 06, 2023

Last Seen in Lapaz by Kwei Quartey

First Line: Awake now, Emma listened to Courage's slow, rhythmic breathing beside her.
When an old friend of Emma Djan's boss comes to the agency for help, Emma finds herself trying to locate the man's missing daughter.
Ngozi was set to attend law school and had a bright future ahead of her when she became infatuated with her handsome new boyfriend, Femi. Disappearing from her parents' home in Nigeria in the middle of the night, Ngozi's father believes she's now in Ghana.
Emma and her partner have barely begun their investigation when Femi is found murdered in his home in Accra. With no signs of Ngozi in the place, Emma continues to dig for information and learns that Femi was part of a network of sex traffickers that spanned West Africa. 
Although it's important to find out which of Femi's enemies murdered him, it's even more urgent for Emma to find Ngozi before she, too, is killed in cold blood.
Last Seen in Lapaz is a hard-hitting story that unfolds slowly and dispassionately, almost as though author Kwei Quartey had to keep a distance between himself and the brutality that can threaten to overwhelm these pages. 

When her dreams of a career in the police force were dashed, twenty-six-year-old Emma Djan found that she has a knack for being a private investigator, and she needs all of her skills to find missing eighteen-year-old Ngozi as well as the killer of Ngozi's boyfriend, Femi.

Ngozi's story often takes a backseat to Femi's, who is a handsome young man to whom money means everything. Femi's attempts to get rich don't come to much until he is released from prison and joins forces with an old friend who's into human trafficking. Femi learns the ins and outs of the new business quickly and soon branches out to the more lucrative sex trafficking and prostitution. The evil that Femi does is shown when Emma finds one of his trafficked clients who managed to escape a Libyan detention center. Last Seen in Lapaz does have scenes of torture and rape, but they are not gratuitous and they are not drawn out; they tell of the incredible brutality desperate immigrants often face when all they want-- all they've paid for-- is the way to a better life for themselves and their loved ones. 
The only tiny quibbles I had with the book are its slow pace, its dispassionate tone that kept me from being completely drawn into the story, and the occasional scenes where the characters spoke in pidgin, which tried to tie my brain up in knots. Thankfully, a glossary is provided.

I can see readers passing this book by because of the subject matter and because they don't read to be upset. I can understand that. But sometimes greater understanding comes from reading outside your comfort zone and being upset. Author Kwei Quartey opens the door to a part of the world that few Americans know anything about. His previous series featuring police detective Darko Dawson and this series featuring young Emma Djan have not only entertained me, but they've also taught me a great deal about West Africa, and I appreciate that so very much.
Last Seen in Lapaz by Kwei Quartey
eISBN: 9781641293402
Soho Press © 2023
eBook, 360 pages
Private Investigator, #3 Emma Djan mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Net Galley


  1. I think you're right, Cathy, that sometimes it's beneficial to read something that makes us think, or even feel uncomfortable. The things Quartey writes about do happen, and we won't stop them if we don't talk about them. The story sounds powerful, although I know what you mean about the dispassionate way of telling it. I like Quartey's Darko Dawson book, and I will probably read this one. I think I'll have to choose the right time.

  2. I can't believe this is already #3 in this author's 'new' series. I think I have books #1 and #2, but haven't read them yet. As you said, even if the storyline is hard to read, Quartey shares and helps the reader understand so much about this part of Africa. I also liked his Darko Dawson books. Putting this one on my list - the long, long list.

  3. This does sound like a heavy read, but, like you said, it is important to get a better understanding about things like this that go on in our world. I was surprised to learn that the area I live in has a sex trafficking problem. We are a smallish college town, but are right off of a major Interstate. I don't think there are many places untouched by this anymore. And this series sounds like a great way to learn about West Africa.

  4. Oh, I'm at a point where I want to avoid torture and violence, so I may be looking for calmer books, maybe a few cozies. But I appreciate the review.

    1. Sometimes enough is enough... at least for awhile. That's why I don't stick to just one type of mystery. Changing it up is good for me.

  5. Yeah, I'm having trouble with Eskens' The Stolen Hours, although I like his writing. I'm avoiding the killer chapters and reading about the protagonist who has PTSD. I just listed some cozies you suggest on my library reserve.


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