Devil-devil: Introducing The Sergeant Kella And Sister Conchita Series Set In The Solomon Islands by Graeme KentDevil-devil: Introducing The Sergeant Kella And Sister Conchita Series Set In The Solomon Islands by Graeme Kent

Devil-devil: Introducing The Sergeant Kella And Sister Conchita Series Set In The Solomon Islands

byGraeme Kent

Paperback | February 7, 2012

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It's not easy being Ben Kella. As a sergeant in the Solomon Islands Police Force, as well as an aofia, a hereditary spiritual peacekeeper of the Lau people, he is viewed with distrust by both the indigenous islanders and the British colonial authorities. In
the past few days he has been cursed by a magic man, stumbled across evidence of a cargo cult uprising, and failed to find an American anthropologist who had been scouring the mountains for a priceless pornographic icon. Then, at a mission station, Kella discovers an independent and rebellious young American nun, Sister Conchita, secretly trying to bury a skeleton. The unlikely pair of Kella and Conchita are forced to team up to solve a series of murders that tie into all these other strange goings-on. Set in the 60's in one of the most beautiful and dangerous areas of the South Pacific, Devil-Devil launches an exciting new series.
For eight years, Graeme Kent was Head of BBC Schools broadcasting in the Solomon Islands. Prior to that he taught in six primary schools in the UK and was headmaster of one. Currently, he is Educational Broadcasting Consultant for the South Pacific Commission.
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Title:Devil-devil: Introducing The Sergeant Kella And Sister Conchita Series Set In The Solomon IslandsFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:304 pages, 7.5 × 4.99 × 0.86 inShipping dimensions:7.5 × 4.99 × 0.86 inPublished:February 7, 2012Publisher:Soho PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1616950609

ISBN - 13:9781616950606

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1THE GLORY SHELLSister Conchita clung to the sides of the small dugout canoe asthe waves pounded over the frail vessel, soaking its twooccupants. In front of her the Malaitan scooped his paddle intothe water, trying to keep the craft on an even balance. SisterConchita could see the coastal village a hundred yards away. Thebeach was crowded with islanders. She wondered whether it hadbeen worth the perilous sea journey just to see the shark-callingceremony when all she wanted was a shower and a meal. Ofcourse it was, she told herself severely. If she intended servingGod in the Solomons then she had to get to know everythingabout the islands.The half-naked islander in front of her suddenly gave a screamof terror. Turning, he thrust the paddle into the sister’s hands anddived over the side of the canoe, disappearing into the frothingwhite foam. Sister Conchita sat rigid with apprehension, thepitted wooden blade clutched loosely in her hands. Bereft ofthe islander’s control, the canoe started pitching and swingingwildly.For a moment all that Sister Conchita wanted to do was tocower helplessly in the bucking wooden frame. Then hercustomary resourcefulness took over. Snap out of it, she thoughtgrimly. You got yourself into this hole, better get out of it the1same way, girl. Muttering a fervent prayer, she tightened hergrip on the paddle and thrust it with all her force into the water.For the next five minutes the wiry young sister fought the sea.The momentum of the current was sending her at breakneckspeed in the direction of the beach and the watching islanders,but the waves were crashing over the canoe at an angle, buffetingit from side to side. Several times the entire tree shell wassubmerged beneath the surface, but on each occasion it surfacedsufficiently for the sodden nun, coughing and gasping, to resumeher paddling.Doggedly she kept the prow of the canoe pointing at thebeach. After an apparent eternity of choking, muscle-achingeffort the shore actually seemed to be getting closer. One finalshock of a wave descended on the canoe and hurled it sprawlingup into the shallows off the beach.Half a dozen brawny, cheering Melanesian men in skimpyloincloths splashed into the water and laughingly hauled thecanoe up on to the sand. The crowd of assembled islanders brokeinto delighted applause. Dazedly Sister Conchita stood up andlimped out of the beached craft.Gradually her vision cleared. She blinked hard. Standing infront of her, joining vigorously in the acclamation among thelarge crowd, was the islander who had discarded his paddle andleft her to fight the sea alone. Struggling for breath, SisterConchita fought for the words adequately to express her opinionof him.‘They’ve just been pulling your leg, sister,’ drawled acontemptuous voice from behind her. ‘They wanted to see whatyou were made of. You didn’t do so bad. Most sheilas just stayin the boat screaming bloody murder.’The nun turned to see John Deacon, unshaven and clad inkhaki shorts and shirt, regarding her coolly from the edge of thecrowd.GRAEME KENT2‘Mr Deacon,’ said Sister Conchita, trying to keep her balance.Deacon was an Australian who managed a local copra plantation.She did not like him, suspecting him of ill-treating his labourers.However, she always tried, she suspected in vain, to conceal herfeelings.‘Local custom,’ explained the stocky, broad-shouldered Australianlaconically. ‘Any stranger approaching the beach, theguide jumps overboard. Actually the current is bound to bringthe canoe up on to the shore, but if you don’t know that, it canbe a mite disconcerting.’‘You can say that again,’ said Sister Conchita.‘At least you had a go,’ acknowledged the plantation manager.‘The natives like guts.’‘Have you come for the ceremony?’ asked Sister Conchitapolitely, trying to change the subject. She did not wish to bereminded too much of her undignified arrival.The Australian snorted with derision. ‘I don’t believe insuperstition,’ he told her. His eyes scanned her tattered, oncewhitehabit. ‘Any superstition,’ he told her with emphasis. ‘I’mhere to pick up a cargo.’Suddenly Deacon was swept aside by a phalanx of islandwomen, offering the nun rough blankets with which to dryherself, together with a husk of coconut milk. In a chatteringgroup they conducted her to a site at the water’s edge and waitedeagerly with her. An artificial lagoon about twenty yards indiameter had been constructed there with piles of stones markingits edges, and an aperture on the seaward side to allow fish toswim in and out.As the nun watched, an old man in tattered shorts and singletemerged from one of the huts and walked down towards thestones. A profusion of ancient bone charms rattled on a stringaround his neck. A naked small boy of about ten years of ageaccompanied him.DEVIL-DEVIL3‘Fa’atabu,’ muttered an awed woman. She translated for thenun’s benefit. ‘This one is the shark-caller,’ she said, indicatingthe old man.Four islanders splashed out into the shallow waters of the sharkarea. They were carrying large flat stones, which they bangedtogether under the water. Simultaneously the shark-caller startedchanting in a high, tuneless voice. The crowd, which had swollenin numbers to several hundred, looked on in expectant silence.For several minutes nothing happened. Then a reverentmurmur went round the crowd. The fins of half a dozen sharkscould be seen entering the enclosure.The men, still clashing the stones together, fled from thewater. Women picked up a few baskets of raw pork and placedthem at the water’s edge before withdrawing hastily. Completelyunperturbed, the boy hoisted one of the baskets up on to hisshoulder and staggered out with it into the water, to a depth ofseveral feet. To the accompaniment of screams and shouts fromthe crowd on the shore the sharks began to swim steadily towardsthe boy.Sister Conchita found herself clenching her fists at the sight.The boy stood still for a moment. Then he reached up into thebasket and started feeding the sharks lumps of raw meat,dropping these into the water just in front of him. As the sharksapproached, accepting the food, the boy began to caress them.Throughout, the shark-caller continued his keening.Sister Conchita looked on, fascinated by the sight. Out of thecorner of her eye she became aware of Deacon and twoMelanesians carrying a bulky sack along the ramshackle woodenjetty protruding into the sea. A dinghy was tethered there,bobbing in the water. Farther out to sea she could see theAustralian’s trading vessel at anchor.The sister did not want to leave the ceremony but she thoughtthat it would only be courteous to say goodbye to the brusqueGRAEME KENT4plantation manager. Reluctantly she slipped through the crowdand made her way along the wharf. Deacon and his helpers weretrying to load the sack into the heaving dinghy. The islanderswere struggling to lower the sack to Deacon, waiting impatientlybelow. As she approached, one of the Melanesians dropped hisend of the bulging sack. It burst open, disgorging a cascade ofseashells.Sister Conchita increased her pace to see if she could help.Some of the shells rolled across the wooden platform and nestledat her feet. The nun stooped to pick them up.‘Leave that; we’ll sort it!’ ordered Deacon, scrambling up fromthe dinghy.Sister Conchita ignored him. She had cradled three shells inher hands and was examining them with increasing excitementand anxiety. She would have recognized them anywhere. Beforeshe had left Chicago she had attended a museum display of SouthPacific seashells. The ones in her hands were a delicate goldenbrown in colour, with a round base tapering exquisitely to apoint.‘Are you deaf? I said I’ll take those!’ shouted Deacon,lumbering towards her.Sister Conchita was intimidated by the Australian’s loomingpresence but stubbornly she clutched the beautiful shells to her.‘I think not, Mr Deacon,’ she said, refusing to take a pacebackwards, although every instinct warned her to get away fromthe plantation manager. ‘I believe these are glory shells,’ she wenton. ‘You have no right to be taking them off the island. They’rea part of the culture of the Solomons.’The Conus gloriamaris, or Glory of the Seas, was the rarest ofall seashells to be found in the Solomons, sought after in vain byalmost every islander. It fetched over a thousand dollars amongcollectors. Its export was expressly forbidden by the government.‘Mind your own business!’ grunted Deacon. ‘Or . . .’DEVIL-DEVIL5‘Or what, Mr Deacon?’ asked Sister Conchita, still standingher ground, although she was conscious that she was trembling.It had been a long time since she had been exposed to anexample of such apparently uncontrollable wrath.With relief sherealized that a group of village men, attracted by the altercationbetween the two expatriates, had abandoned the shark-callingceremony temporarily and were hurrying along the jetty behindthem.‘This is a Catholic village, Mr Deacon,’ said Sister Conchitaclearly. ‘I don’t think its inhabitants would take kindly to seeinga sister being manhandled.’Deacon looked at the dozen or so men getting closer. Withan impressive display of strength he hurled the sack into thebottom of the dinghy, scattering its consignment of shells.‘I won’t forget this,’ he promised vehemently, glaring up as hecast off. ‘I’m not having some bit of a kid who hasn’t been in theislands five minutes telling me what to do.’‘And another thing,’ the nun called after him. ‘Just in case youhave any more illegal shells in that sack, I shall be asking theCustoms Department in the capital to examine it when you getthere.’Deacon was already rowing the dinghy with vicious strokesback towards his small trading vessel. Sister Conchita turned witha grateful and rather tremulous smile to face the approachingislanders. She realized that, as usual, she had just insisted onhaving the last word. It was a failing she was well aware of andwould have to take to confession yet again.GRAEME KENT62THE GHOST-CALLERSergeant Kella sat on the earthen floor of the beu, the men’smeeting-house, patiently waiting for the ghost-caller to bringback the dead.Most of the men of the coastal village had managed to cram intothe long, thatched building with its smoke-blackened bamboowalls. According to custom, a smallwooden gong had been struckwith a thick length of creeper to summon the assembly.Kella could hear the women and children of the remotesaltwater hamlet talking excitedly outside as they waited for newsof the proceedings to filter from the hut. Most of the men wereeyeing him with suspicion as he sat impassively among them. Atouring police officer would not normally have been allowedinside the hut, but he was present in his capacity of aofia, thehereditary peacemaker of the Lau people.Kella hoped that Chief Superintendent Grice would not hearabout the detour he had made to this village. Back in Honiarahis superior had been explicit in his instructions.‘You’re going to Malaita for one reason only,’ he had toldKella. ‘You are to make inquiries about Dr Mallory, nothing else.After your last little episode over there, I said I’d never send youback. But you speak the language. I take it that you can ask a fewsimple questions and come back with the answers?’7Hurriedly Kella had assured the police chief that he could.After six months sitting behind a desk in the capital he wouldhave promised almost anything to get out on tour again. Nowhere he was, only two days into his journey, and already he wasdisobeying instructions.The village headman entered the hut. He was a plump,self-satisfied man clad in new shorts and singlet and exuding theconfidence of someone who owned good land. With a fewexceptions, the Lau area chieftains were not hereditary but werechosen for their conspicuous distribution of wealth. This manwould have achieved his position for the number of feasts he hadhosted, not for any fighting prowess.The headman cleared his throat. ‘We are here to find out whokilled Senda Iabuli,’ he muttered grudgingly in the local dialect.Plainly he had not wanted the meeting to take place. ‘To do thiswe have sent for the ghost-caller, the ngwane inala. He will tellus who the killer is.’The ghost-caller was sitting with his back to the wall, facingthe other men. He was in his sixties, small and emaciated, hismeagre frame racked periodically with hacking coughs. He woreonly a brief thong about his loins. His face and body werecriss-crossed with gaudy and intricate patterns painted on withthe magic lime. Barely visible beneath the decorations on his facewere a number of vertical scars, slashed there long ago when hefirst set out to learn the calling incantations. Laid out on theground before him were two stringed hunting bows, some leavesof the red dracaena plant, a few coconuts and a carved woodenbowl containing trochus shells.According to the gossip Kella had managed to pick up sincehis arrival at the village, the ghost-caller had been summoned toinvestigate the sudden death of Senda Iabuli, a perfectlyundistinguished villager, an elderly widower with no survivingchildren.GRAEME KENT8Iabuli’s first and only claim to notoriety had occurred a monthbefore. Early one morning he had been on his way to work inhis garden on the side of a mountain just outside the village. Hehad, as always, crossed a ravine by way of a narrow swing bridgeconsisting of creepers and logs lashed together. As he had madehis precarious way to the far side, a sudden gust of wind hadcaught the old man and sent him toppling helplessly hundreds offeet down into the valley below.The event had been witnessed by a group of men hunting wildpigs. It had taken them most of the morning to descend thetree-covered slope into the ravine to recover the body of the oldvillager. To their amazement, they had discovered Senda Iabulialive and well, if considerably shaken and winded. His fall hadbeen broken by the leafy tops of the trees, from which he hadslithered down to end up dazed and bruised on a pile of moss atthe foot of a casuarina tree.The old man had been helped back to the village, confusedand shaking, but apparently none the worse for his experience.For several weeks he had resumed his customary innocuousexistence. Then one morning he had been found dead in his hut.Normally that would have been the end of the matter, but forsome unfathomable reason a relative of Iabuli had demanded aninvestigation into his death. This was the family’s right bycustom and had caused the headman to send for the ghost-caller.Kella had heard of the events and had invited himself to theceremony.The ghost-caller picked up one of the red dracaena leaves andsplit it down the middle. He wrapped one half around the otherto strengthen it. Then he placed the reinforced leaf in the carvedbowl. Next, he shuffled the two stringed bows on the groundbefore him. Each was a little less than full size, fashioned of palmwood, with strings of twisted red and yellow vegetable fibres.The bows represented two Lau ghosts, the spirits of men whoDEVIL-DEVIL9had once walked the earth. The ghost-caller threw back his headand started to chant an incantation in a high-pitched, keeningtone.The calling went on for more than an hour as the callerbegged the right spirits to enter the beu. They had a long way tocome, for the souls of the dead resided on the island of Momulo,far away. Suddenly the chanting ended. The caller stiffened, hisback rigid and his eyes closed.‘The ghosts ride,’ murmured the headman, nodding sagely, asif these events were all his doing. Some of the elders noddedobsequious agreement. The custom man before them was nowpossessed of the spirits of the departed agalo.‘Who comes?’ demanded the ghost-caller. Spasms racked hisbody. Voices began to emerge from his mouth. There were twoof them, speaking in different pitches. Kella had been expectingthem both. The ghost-caller had taken no chances, adhering tothe main ancestral ghosts of the region, ones everyone presentwould know. He had selected Takilu, the war god, and SinaKwao of the red hair, who had once killed the giant lizard whichhad threatened to devour all of Malaita. Only a ghost-caller wasallowed to address these spirits by their names.As each ghost spoke, the relevant bow quivered on theground. The caller was good, thought Kella. The police sergeanthad been watching the emaciated man closely, and was sure thatthere were no threads connecting the weapons to the ghostcaller,which could be twitched surreptitiously to make themflutter. He could only assume that the custom man wasdrumming on the ground with his iron-hard heels to set up thenecessary vibrations.

Editorial Reviews

“Truly fabulous ... Sister Conchita and Kella are already committed to a sequel. This is a series, and a writer, to watch.”—Toronto Globe and Mail“Kent, a prolific author of fiction and nonfiction, fills Devil-Devil with a sparkling plot (complete with an unexpected conclusion) and a rich history of the Solomons and their native people. But it's Kella and Conchita—and Kent's wit—that makes this unusual mystery work, and readers will eagerly await the next installment.”—Richmond Times-Dispatch“Kent’s first mystery is the beginning of a new and promising series.... The atmosphere and setting are integral to both character and plot and lend a unique note to this solid mystery. Definitely a series to watch.”—Booklist