In Yaba Badoe’s True Murder, we meet Ajuba, an eleven year old, shipped off to a boarding school in Devon by her Ghanaian father, following the breakup of her parents’ marriage and her mother’s mental breakdown.
The young Ajuba is barely able to comprehend the details of what has transpired, as much of it is shrouded in superstition.
At her new school, Ajuba makes friends with Polly Venus, a new girl, who comes from a glamorous but dysfunctional family. Their friendship sees Ajuba spend most her school breaks with Polly and her family. One summer holiday, Ajuba and Polly discover what they believe to be the bones of kittens. Later, they realize that their discovery is not what they think it is, and with their imagination powered by the “True Murder” American detective magazine series, the two girls set out to uncover the truth behind their grim discovery.
Meanwhile, still troubled by her parents’ separation and her own mother’s breakdown, Abuja comes to loathe her step mother. She makes clear her feelings when at one point her father asks if she’s looking forward to meeting her stepmother’s child (her soon to be born brother).
“Are you looking forward to meeting your brother?,” Pa persisted, folding Nina’s hand in his, rubbing it against his thigh.
“I didn’t know what to say, but when I spoke, I knew I’d stumbled on the words Mama would have chosen: the words that hurt stepmothers, and errant fathers the most. Smiling at Pa, I said to Nina, “I don’t suppose anyone’s told you, but I had another little brother once, Nina. And a little sister. A long time ago before my pa met you. Babies can die before they’re born. And sometimes they die soon afterwards because witches kill them. It makes mothers go crazy. Isn’t that so, Pa?”Pg 258
True Murder is Badoe’s debut novel, published in 2009 by Vintage Books. It is well written and constructed and the non-linear plot makes it all the more interesting. Definitely a book to recommend.