Saturday, December 3, 2011

Mysteries and thrillers in Papua New Guinea

Staff at the University of Papua New Guinea's book store looking through a copy of The Samana Incident in preparation of ordering copies for next year's literature courses.
Keith Dahlberg wrote an in interesting novel about an international drug ring operating in Papua New Guinea.


The Samana Incident: a crime novel of Papua New Guinea is his choice of a title for this novel. An enthusiast in the thriller, mystery and biography genres in literature himself Dahlberg would not have chosen a better mode of narrative to suit the reading needs and habits of Papua New Guineans.

A quiet missionary township of Samana, somewhere in what we might be content with as the “Central Highlands Province” as far as works of fiction go suddenly encounters early hours one morning a band of individuals who do not quite fit the description of local “rascal” burglary element. One speaks in a strange accent that passes as foreign but there is no telling whether it is American, Australian or other. Steve Talman, preparing to begin the daily missionary broadcast at the hilltop Radio Station P2WT, realizes the lines are dead and in going out to investigate gets knocked out cold. A switchboard operator further down, Jeannette, has a brief exchange of dialogue with the foreign accent, and then she too passes out the moment she feels certain the tightly locked door will give under the weight of the intruder. That is followed at half-light by short bursts of gunfire exchanged between the township’s security forces and the intruders.

The incident causes quite a worry for the little missionary township; more so the township’s mayor, Hans Vanderhof who calls for an emergency town council meeting the next few hours and the aid, if possible, of a police officer from the provincial headquarters of Kundioka for further investigations. Much is discussed then and everyone agrees that the matter could be very serious. A brooding Lieutenant Jason Kerro of Kundioka police headquarters leaves that meeting more troubled than ever after of course leaving his business card with the blushing Jeannette and resolves that he will not rest until he reaches the bottom of this new found mystery.

What follows thenceforth is a story of crime and mystery we should not turn a blind eye or deaf ear to. Lieutenant Jason Kerro aided by the advice and cooperation of the little missionary township of Samana sets out to observe his investigations with determination, soliciting the assistance of amateur personnel wherever his work carries him, from Samana to Kundioka to Lae and back to the Central Highlands Province. His own boss, the Provincial Police Commander, does not seem to be interested in the case. When Jason puts forward his report on the Samana incident the reply he gets is an indifferent directive: “Just type your report and leave it on my desk, Kerro, I’ll get to it in due time.”

That would of course be the kind of reaction from a senior officer (immersed in “inventing paperwork while closing his eyes and ears to anything new unless there was a chance for personal gain”) that would make men like Jason Kerro, 33 years old, think very, very hard.

“And Kerro!” the captain said as Jason was about to leave, “Don’t worry too much about those foreigners in Samana. There’s no profit in it for us.”

When Jason discovers that no help is due from his immediate superiors he resolves to continue the investigation on his own aware of the risk he is taking. At the same time the mayor of Samana sends a message to the missionary headquarters somewhere in Canada where an urgent council meeting is observed regarding the strange happenings on one of their translation outposts that contains some missionary workers “plus a hundred more researchers working out in remote villages.” The meeting then resolves to send a missionary couple consisting of a retired doctor and his wife to find out more about the Samana incident.

Dr. George Daniels and his wife Vienna are the two people the mission headquarters finally appoints on a fair amount of stipend to travel to Papua New Guinea, and it is this couple that finally joins forces with Jason with whom they are able to uncover the nature of business of the people involved in those early hours of the morning at the missionary township. And what a big find it is in busting what will later unfold towards the end of the novel as a drug ring that consists of Papua New Guineans, Australians and some Asians from around the border areas of Burma and Thailand.

The influence of this drug ring that has in the rural areas is devastating. A whole village becomes involved, christening itself as The Promise Village. The elders of that village whose limited knowledge of the world outside them is unfairly taken advantage of by the dealers; and with fabricated stories of cargo cult promises of what is there to come they are able to control an entire population which in turn allows this easier flow of arms and drug trafficking and trade between PNG, Australia and parts of Asia. There is an illegal airstrip at hand for easy transportation of chemicals and drug properties for sale in PNG and Australia.

Soon all this is uncovered, Jason Kerro and his team of retired missionaries, including his trustworthy superiors in Port Moresby organize what looks like a SWAT raid with the assistance of the Australian Air Force, undercover of the Mount Hagen Air Show, and there we have it. The rest is a good story, indeed a detective thriller that makes The Samana Incident so exciting to read.

We could go on with character and plot details, space permitting, but what needs to be pointed out here is the novel’s significance as an educational material. Keith Dahlberg himself is a medical doctor by profession and qualification and the chemical know-how he offers in this beautifully worded 193 pages of fiction can be useful information for some authorities, especially in the manufacture of certain drug products that are easily becoming accessible upon our shores.

Parents with grown up children are particularly encouraged to read this novel. And though this is purely a work of fiction it does get closer to the mysteries of why our youth behave the way they do these days after consuming certain brands of beverages that become suspect as dangerous products in our society.  

Storyboard is in the process of liaising with the UPNG Bookshop to have the book ordered for next year’s literature courses. But as noted earlier he would much rather recommend strongly that parents include a copy of The Samana Incident on their Christmas New Year shopping list, before sending their children to higher grades next year.