Food of Ghosts (Kiribati)

Map of Kiribati Islandsby Marianne Wheelaghan

DS Louisa Townsend is part I-Kiribati, part I-Matang. She is a germiphobe, who struggles constantly and valiantly against the part of her mind that wants her to hole up in her cottage, endlessly cleaning and sterilizing. She has a job to do, and a murderer to catch. She also has family in Tarawa, the capital of the island nation of Kiribati, who expect her to remember the old ways and act as they do, even while they are telling her she can never fit in due to being half Scottish.

Kiribati IslandEx-pat Joe Garcia, an I-Matang businessman from Singapore, has been found dead with his eyes gouged out. Who could have done such a thing? DS Townsend had better find out…and fast. The Police Commissioner is breathing down her neck, and before you can say “the plot thickens” there is a second murder, and then possibly a third. With no forensics on the island, Louisa must rely on her instincts. But is she trusting the wrong person?

What I Loved About This Book (Almost Everything)

Louisa is kind of like a half-Scottish, half-Kiribati version of Adrian Monk. Excellent at crime-solving, with quirky little hang-ups.

  • Such as not being able to drink out of a can, because she watched a school science program years ago which revealed that all fizzy drink cans have traces of rat urine and poop on the ring pulls. (Now I won’t be able to drink straight out of a can, either…)
  • Such as not being able to go barefoot like her relatives, since many Tarawans like to go number two on the beaches and well, just about anywhere. (So. Gross!!!)
  • Such as having difficulty shaking hands with people. Etc., etc., etc.

Kiribati PhotoIsland life on Tarawa is a lot of fun, at least if you like islands and the ocean. Many of the ex-pats complain that “there is nothing to do”, but they are the ones who only associate with other ex-pats, sitting around swilling alcohol, doing drugs, and generally trying to pretend that where they are is exactly like where they’ve come from. (So, I always wonder, why leave?)

Louisa has hired her cousin Retata to cook and clean for her, and Retata’s family camps out in Louisa’s backyard. This is where we get to know a lot about island traditions (particularly the ones Louisa isn’t keeping). Retata is a generous and feisty island woman, who has no trouble letting Louisa know when she causes Retata to lose face in the community.

Book CoverThere is no mobile network on Tarawa, Internet is limited, and the police don’t even have personal police radios. (The island is sounding better and better!)

“Louisa sat on a mat by a smouldering camp fire out the back. Retata had set up the first fire at the edge of the veranda a few days after she had moved in. Softly hissing embers created a rosy glow. A faint star winked. There was no moon. The ocean side of the house was her favorite side. One late afternoon, not long after she had arrived, but before Retata and her family had swooped in, she’d been sitting at that same spot, looking out to sea. A school of silver dolphins had burst out of the water. There had been dozens of them, twirling and sparkling beneath the glistening orange sun in front of her eye…”

Rating: Five silver dolphins; this book is a great summer read or for anytime. I would totally buy the whole series.