New Mystery Series - The Witch Doctor's Wife
Africa, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Africa
The mystery writer Tamar Myers, an interesting mix of Amish-Mennonite geneaoloy married to a Jewish gentleman, has written all of these cultures into her previous two series of humorous mystery novels. These series are The Den of Antiquity and The Penn-Dutch Inn mysteries. They are both delightful and the protagonist of the latter, Magdelena Yoder, is a comic hero of mine. She always makes me laugh.
However, Ms. Myers would like to write about her own, less funny, life as a child of missionary parents in Africa. To begin this task, she has produced a different sort of mystery novel that, while still humorous in places, contains not only pith but pain. This first book of an African mystery series is sure to be the foundation of another popular set of novels. At the same time, it seems to lay the groundwork for an autobiographical book. When that book is released, it will astound the reading pubic. Humor, delightful humor, often is the veil standing before a deeply scarred past. Tamar Myers is willing to share.
Belgian Congo 1958
The format of this story is exceptional. Each chapter heading includes a nugget of information about Belgian Congolese animals, plant life, people, customs, and events. Some of these are startling.
The ending piece mirrors the opening scene, with extended images that tie the whole of the story together and offers hope for another installment and a better life for at least one family in the village of Belle Vue. This is brilliant.
The Witch Doctor’s Wife is not another light “cozy” genre mystery set in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The book stores are full of those. This mystery is not in Pennsylvania or South Carolina, among genteel folk. It is a period piece of the early Cold War, with sharper edges, sharper tongues, and the sharp scent of blood and blood money.
This book develops a stage of character within a historical thriller from the era of the author’s childhood experiences in what 1958’s Belgian Congo. Dwight D. Eisenhower was President of the US and protagonist Amanda Brown is a young woman leaving South Carolina for the African mission of the fundamentalist church.
As it was in Botswana, diamonds seemed to fall from the sky in the Belgian Congo, since there were so many mines. In fact, one huge gem seems to have fallen into a small agricultural plot, presenting a means of escape from abject poverty and starvation for a witch doctor and his wives and baby boy. In fact, all three adults work. The witch doctor, named Their Death, also works at the post office to make a living to support his wives and son, while allowing him time to practice his form of ritualistic folk medicine that does no harm and does some people good. He is unable to make a living with it, however.
Second Wife works at home in the backbreaking tasks of planting, harvesting, cleaning, caring for a child and tending to the other adults in her household. First Wife, Cripple, twisted by a congenital disorder, demands a job from the white woman at the mission guesthouse and gets it. All are working and Baby Boy finds a giant uncut diamond – luck is changing!
The Kasai River Gorge
The Kasai River originates in Angola, acting as the border between that nation and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). From Angola, it flows into DRC to merge with the Congo River above Kinshasa. This is a land equatorial rainforests.
The Belgian contingent literally stripped the Congo raw of wealth before they relinquished it to the Indigenous residents, who eagerly awaited Belgian withdrawal. Until then, the Consortium controlled the diamond trade, while Belgian supervisors skimmed all that they could manage. Underling workers also managed to grab a few gems. Greed and graft were palpable.
With wealth such as loose diamonds comes inherent conflict, yet larger conflicts blanket that scene as numerous cultures attempt to coexist. The tribal village Belle Vue sits on top of the Kasai River Gorge, where Africans and Whites live separately. Aside from these cultural differences, the setting hosts intra-cultural difficulties and feuds among related tribes. Each group makes fun of the next, sometimes leading to blows, yet often leading to falling-down laughter among all.
Amanda Brown arrives to take over supervision of the local missionary guesthouse. She is awed by the scenery but stalled by odd Indigenous names and customs. She hires First Wife, who helps her to understand. Amanda is not a petite flower of a young woman, naive and easily offended. She is sharp-witted and speaks the local language. She can manage relationships with the Indigenous peoples at her guest house and in the village. She and her houseman preserve the tart, funny type of banter akin to that of Myers’s Mennonite Magdalena Yoder and Ms. Yoder’s Amish Aunt Frenie in Hernia PA, but with an added dimension. Amanda and her houseman are new, yet familiar. We can recognize their spirits and we welcome them.
More on Congo
Among the shots of humor and scenes of gorgeous African nature and history, this story also contains scheming, bleeding, and dying; scandals and mishaps. A huge diamond in question is rarely seen and many believe it is a fiction. That so many individuals would scamper and slink to such lengths to get hold of it is part of the fun and intrigue of the mystery.
Good Show on this new mystery series!