The Obeahman's Dagger by Neil Daniel

The Obeahman's Dagger

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In this debut thriller, a journalist follows leads the police ignore to learn the fate of women who have vanished during the Trinidadian Carnival.

David Chelmsford is a journalist for the newspaper the Independent in Trinidad. It’s not the career in law enforcement that his father, Inspector Franklin Chelmsford, wanted for him, but David loves it nevertheless. One day, a colleague gives him a folder filled with articles about women who have disappeared during J’ouvert, or the two-day Carnival. E.H. Watson, the previous journalist to investigate these vanishings, suggested that a serial kidnapper was responsible. Against the admonishing of Franklin—who insists that the police have always done their best to investigate the cases—David decides to explore the clues. He’s been assigned some soft reportage, to write an article about tourists at Carnival. To that end, he and photographer George Fonclaire visit a hotel and meet Belle Ferguson. She’s in Trinidad to drum up ideas for her graduate thesis on the cultures that influence Carnival. David suggests they see some stickfighting, a martial art in which an obeahman (or priest) will “mount” a spirit onto the combatant’s stick. As it turns out, Belle, already a student of the Yin Shou Gun Shaolin fighting style, has come to the attention of a few devious onlookers. In his atmospheric and culturally layered debut, Daniel initially offers readers a grounded mystery. His small cast of characters lives brightly through focused sketches, like Elaine Chelmsford, who is always cooking, or her inspector husband, who explains that being a police officer is “not a job; it’s a state of mind.” Later, the author blurs the line between dreams and reality, introducing an enchanted ceremonial dagger; “the protector of foolish old men,” Mami Wata; and the idea that dreams are products of the imagination but also subject to infestation by “departed souls who are...confused, lost.” Though the author provides too few suspected villains to make this a propulsive whodunit, the eerie finale is as welcome as it is unexpected.

Dynamic characters and ambiance help this tale showcase Trinidadian culture.

Pub Date: July 14th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-5143-9754-1
Page count: 286pp
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
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