|Set in the Solomon Islands in 1960, One Blood chronicles the adventures of Ben Kella, a sergeant for the islands’ police force. Although he has received some of his education in Australia, Kella is a native of the island of Malaita, a breed apart from the Western District Solomon Islands. Kella is also, an aofia, or traditional justice bringer, whose job it was to maintain traditions of the ancient gods of the islands. He treaded a thin line between keeping the native people comfortable while keeping this aspect of his job secret from his the powers that be in the police department in the capital, Honiara.
Sister Conchita, a nun in a floundering mission in the Western District Solomon Islands, is beset with problems of her own. Due to her involvement in affairs her superiors believe are not within her job description, she has been warned to ignore any problems that come up in her area to those with the experience and authority to deal with them. However, an American tourist is found dead in her mission’s church, and he has obviously been murdered. It’s not her job to investigate, but the rapidity with which the body is airlifted out of the territory attracts her attention.
These actions reek of a cover up to Sister Conchita. She knows she has been warned, but she cannot restrain herself from engaging in a littler illegal snooping. Past experience has placed her in contact with Ben Kella so he seems the ideal candidate to gain access to information that only the police can supply.
Graeme Kent gets high marks for utilizing a location off the beaten path, as well as presenting readers with information about a little described location. He manages to integrate bits and pieces of the indigenous language and customs into the plot without overwhelming his audience or making the location seem so similar to Anytown, U.S.A. that the unique qualities of the setting are overshadowed. The placement of native words into the narrative is seamless and while readers will readily understand the meanings, it is a far cry from using a glossary or having one character translate for another.
Ben Kella is an engaging character. His understanding of the feelings of the native islanders helps him deal with crises involving traditional ways and modern methods without offending anyone. He also comments on the difficulties this man must face because he lives in two diverse worlds. Too often we see benefits when there are difficulties as well. Would that there be more men like him in the real world. Sister Conchita, for all her noble efforts, is not so skillful, but she does understand her colleagues. Since her associates are of such diverse ages and abilities this skill is not a useless one.
The author has presented himself with a challenge by setting the action of the tale in 1960. There are enough people around, myself included, who were alive at that time. Thus using language that was not in common parlance at the time sticks out to us. For instance, although the concept of the Third World was introduced in the 1950’s it was not commonly used until the 1970’s or 1980’s. Or when one American official is apologizing to a local police officer speaks of “keeping him out of the loop” he puts his audience right back in the present day.
Kent’s powers of description of both the setting and his characters is worthy of note. It is easy to imagine both the places and the people. The Solomon Islands are tropical so the vegetation is somewhat predictable, but since there are occasional references to the islands during World War II there is evidence of devastation not entirely due to nature. The author’s description of one of the expatriates is memorable. Painted as “a ruined avalanche of a man in his forties, six feet six inches in height and broad-shouldered, but with all his physical attributes beginning to melt and sag downward,” there is no doubt what this man looks like.
This novel is the second in a series featuring Ben Kella and Sister Conchita. The first in line is entitled Devil, Devil. Hopefully we will see these two engaging folks back in another adventure in the near future.