The Crime Readers' Association

Going, going… Gone

7th November 2014

Marianne Wheelaghan

The lesser developed Republic of Kiribati is a necklace of 33 small islands and atolls, slap bang in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), despite being host to many wonderful natural beaches, its isolation means it’s one of planet’s best kept secrets and the third least visited country in the world. But if global warming predictions are correct, in sixty years this paradise will be covered in water and gone forever. Sixty years is no time – I will be sixty in six years and the last five-four years have gone in flash! It is no surprise the new slogan for tourism for Kiribati is “Visit now or never visit”. Why am I telling you this? I used to live and work on Tarawa, the capital of Kiribati, for six years. It is an incredible place. I was desperate for my friends and family to visit me and experience it for themselves. However, the cost of travelling all the way to Kiribati from the UK was simply prohibitive. It was then I had my light bulb moment: if my chums couldn’t come to Kiribati, I’d bring Kiribati to then, while there still was a Kiribati. I decided to write my crime thriller Food of Ghosts.

Why a crime novel? I love reading crime fiction. I have many fond memories of staying up into the wee hours, gripped in suspense, unable to put down my Agatha Christie or Raymond Chandler until the baddies were caught and justice was seen to be done – and what better place to set a mystery than a remote desert island where everyone lives on top of each other and there is no means of escape? But more than that, I believe a good crime novel can tell us as much about the darker side of society as any literary novel. And there was a darker side to life on Tarawa, a much darker side.

So, I had my setting and I had a dark story to tell, all I needed was my sleuth. This was somewhat trickier. Then it occurred to me that as much as I loved the fictional detectives already out there, I was getting bored with one type: namely, the white, middle-aged, middle-class, male detective, who listens to heavy rock (or Wagner) and gets drunk on single malts. Meet Detective Sergeant Louisa Townsend: a youngish (in her early thirties), working class lassie from Edinburgh, who has a Scottish father and a mother from Kiribati. She is not a drinker but she does suffer from a secret obsessive compulsive disorder and has a reputation of doing things in a weird way, but she also has a reputation for getting things done. In Food of Ghosts she has a week to find a macabre killer. But with no forensics on Tarawa and a second killing quickly following the first, then a third death looking suspicious, Louisa worries for the first time in her life she’s out of her depth and in danger.

Kiribati really is an incredibly unique “endangered”  place. It will be a horrific tragedy if in sixty years it is lost forever.  Do visit it, if you ever get the chance and can afford the fare. Alternatively, read Food of Ghosts: for a lot less money and a lot less hassle, you can immerse yourself in this wonderfully quirky place and enjoy a gripping whodunit at the same time ;o)

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