Sister Conchita

(creator: G W Kent)


Sister Conchita was "small and trim, attractive in a severe manner, In her mid-twenties. Her skin had the soft power of someone unaccustomed to the tropical sun. When she spoke, it was with an American accent." She was a Marist nun and, at the start of the first book, had only been in the Solomon Islands for a few weeks. She had originally chosen the name Conchita because she had thought she was going to be sent to South America.

She is an independent, sometimes rebellious young nun who shows considerable courage and initiative in helping Sgt Ben Keller in really dangerous situations. She is shrewd and resourceful, ready to stand up to anybody and “insisted on having the last word. It was a failing she was well aware of and would have to take to confession yet again." She keeps herself fully occupied (she can even repair vans if necesssary) and is plainly “a very determined a young woman", with “a strong personality and a pronounced sense of justice", who had “an acerbic tongue when she wanted to use it." She is, as her Mother Superior tells her, "an exceptionally observant young woman.“ She was known to the islanders as “mary talk-talk long God" (the praying woman).

G(raeme) W Kent has been a soldier, an editor, a primary school teacher and headmaster, and a BBC producer. For the last 15 years he has been a full-time writer. As well as working as a freelance journalist and for national newspapers and magazines, he has written over 14 novels, a number of non-fiction books (he has a particular interest in sport and education), and several prize-winning television and stage plays, as well as many plays for radio. For eight years he was Head of Schools Broadcasting in the Solomon Islands and was Education Consultant to the South Pacific Commission, travelling extensively about the islands of the area.

Devil-Devil (2011)
Devil-Devil is set on the Solomon Islands in 1960, a time when it was one of the last outposts of empire. It makes an intriguing setting. Sgt Ben Kella of the local police force was a mission-educated native who had become an aofia, a traditional peacemaker of the islands, as well as a police sergeant, and was being groomed for a senior role at a time of future independence - if only he would do as he was told.

He is only a few days into a routine patrol of one of the most beautiful yet dangerous and primitive areas of the South Pacific. Yet, already, he has been cursed by a magic man, stumbled across evidence of a cult uprising and failed to find an American anthropologist who has been scouring the mountainous jungle in search of a priceless erotic icon. To complicate matters further, at a local mission station, Kella discovers the redoubtable Sister Conchita secretly trying to bury a skeleton, before a mysterious gunman tries to kill her. It is she who goes on to help him track down the perpetrators of a series of bizarre murders.

The Solomons Island background, which the author had known well, certainly grabs attention, with, for example, effective descriptions of a shark-caller and ghost-hunter at work, the Straight Path ceremony performed for the dying, a strange dream-maker, and "cargo custom", although, after a time the novelty does begins to fade a little, and you wonder if there is enough here to sustain the series that the publishers propose.

However, the author certainly has an observant eye, as when he describes how "Lizards crawled sluggishly out of the mud, hunting for worms and insects. A turtle slithered unexpectedly out of the trees, his head bobbing and thrusting erratically out of its shell, before cascading softly into the river. Frogs grunted and exploded out of the mud like dirty brown and green corks propelled from buried bottles. The huge tortured roots of mangrove trees protruded across the water."

Both Sgt Ben Kella and Sister Conchita are lively, even arresting, characters, although it must be admitted that it is the former who does the real detective work. There is a fine tension between them and their basic beliefs, as Kella much values his old pagan background. Other interesting characters include old Father Pierre who has learned to accept such pagan beliefs as part of the local culture, and would not wish to deny anyone's right to follow them. And all three of them share awkward relationships with the authorities.

Plenty happens, for, as Sister Conchita explains, “Over the last week I have found and unsuccessfully tried to bury a skeleton, been shot at by an unseen assailant, chased through a swamp, forced to climb the side of an unsafe vessel in high seas and condemned to share a journey with an uncouth and extremely unprepossessing Australian." It is he who tells Sister Conchita that “You don't talk one bit like a sister."
She says, “There are people who will tell you that I don't sister like a sister, but I hope I'll learn."
And that's only the start of her adventures.

There is plenty to enjoy in the story such as the way that the missing distinguished anthropologist enjoys being kept in captivity, only too happy to enjoy the sexual favours of three nubile young native women. “Guys who look like I do don't get many offers like that, I can tell you. Not here, or anywhere else." And there's a big fight at the end that gets quite exciting. But it's the background that provides most of the interest.

One Blood (2012)
One Blood is also set in 1960. Sister Conchita has been forced to assume reluctant command of a rundown mission in the lush, primitive Western district of the Solomon Islands. The group of three elderly sisters currently living there are rumoured to have "gone native", and as Conchita tries to grapple with these eccentric but determined old women (who come to life as interesting individuals), an American tourist is found murdered in their mission church.

Help is at hand in the shape of her friend Sergeant Ben Kella, who manages to combine being both the local police officer and the aofia, the "magic man" and traditional law bringer of the islands. Together they set out to solve the mystery with its strange links back to John F Kennedy, a former wartime US naval officer in the area and now about to become the American president.

The author's respect for local traditions and beliefs helps bring the story to life and there is a convincing portrayal of old colonialist attitudes as when another highly educated islander, the enigmatic Mary Lui, persuades Ben to take her into the hallowed precincts of the Mendana Hotel where they have to run “a gauntlet of disapproving looks from the white diners around them as they took their seats" then put up with a drunken female voice complaining imperiously, “They're getting everywhere these days. The bloody people will be foxhunting next."
But Ben is not to be intimidated. "If you lot get on my tits again, I shall climb down from my tree in the jungle and come and live next door to you," he told them. “So watch it!" At this, "One of the wives stood up and stalked in an offended manner to the lavatories by the reception desk."
'Excuse me,' said Mary, standing up and slipping after the large woman.
Soon after, “there was a screen from the direction of the lavatories. The woman who had left the neighbouring table rushed out and stood, distraughtand gibbering, at the entrance of the dining room. There was a large wet stain across the lower half of the back of her expensive dress. The other twowives at the table hurried over to her in clucking consternation .... The first woman was panting for breath and in a state of some shock, pointing back in the direction of the lavatories. When she could finally speak, she gasped: “Someone lent across from the next stall while I was sitting down, and pulled the chain! My dress is soaked!"
Then “the slim, demure form of Mary Gui slipped past the big woman, frowning concernedly. Keller stood up and walked across the room. He met Mary in front of the bewildered but appreciative waiters.
'Into each life a little rain must fall,' she said composedly."
There is no doubt where the author's sympathies lie.

Although there is some dramatic action, you could not describe the plot as wildly exciting. But it is intriguing to uncover the secret long concealed by one of the old nuns, even if the past involvement of John F. Kennedy and the motive of the murderer do not seem too convincing. Oddly enough, Conchita's readiness “to match her faith against that of the lagoon devil-devils" is easier to accept, as is Ben's own belief in the old pagan spirits.



There is little about the author on the web, but there is an informative review of Devil-Devil on the Murder by Type site.



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Devil-Devil cover
Devil-Devil hardback cover
The paperback cover (top picture) gives a better idea of the content than the hardback one below. But why does the author call himself Graeme Kent on one and G W Kent on the other?
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