Previous reviews are at Mack Pitches Up

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Carrion Death by Michael Stanley

I read this in the Kindle edition.

I needed another book set in Africa for the 2010 Global Reading Challenge and picked this one off of my Amazon African author's wish list. What a terrific choice that was. This is the first book by Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip writing as Michael Stanley. A Carrion Death is set in Botswana, a northern neighbor of South Africa.

David "Kubu" Bengu, Assistant Superintendent of the Criminal Investigation Department, is a large man with large appetites. He loves his wife Joy, opera, good food, good drink, and his job. His nickname, Kubu, is Setswana for hippopotamus and he wears it with good grace. He is based in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana.

Kubu is called to investigate the discovery of the remains of a person found near a watering hole. Hyenas and buzzards haven't left much to work with but forensics show that the person was murdered and dumped where the body would soon be consumed by the wildlife. With most of the victim inside the local wildlife, Kubu finds the task of identifying the body slow and frustrating.

Later, Kubu finds himself pulled into the affairs of the Botswana Cattle and Mining Company (BCMC), a major economic presence in the country, when one of their geologists goes missing from a diamond mine. Then there is an amateurish break-in at the office of the CEO of BCMC. Kubu has a personal connection to BCMC having been a childhood friend of Angus Hofmeyr who is about to inherit control of the company.

A Carrion Death is a good, solid procedural at its core. It is a pleasure to see that good police work is good police work no matter where you are and regardless of cultural differences. I enjoyed the way the authors built the story, showing an increasingly frustrated Kubu trying to make sense of contradictory clues. I also appreciated the way the authors avoided a plot cliche that annoys me - if you have a major company tied to the government and director of the Criminal Investigation Department is friends with the CEO then the director will order his lead detective to drop leads in the investigation. doesn't happen.

In between the investigative parts we get a respectful look at family relationships in Botswana as well as problems balancing economic needs with preserving the unique ecology of Botswana and the culture of the bushmen. The authors do not dwell on it but Zimbabwe borders Botswana and we see a bit of the plight of those people who need the cast off junk of Botswana to keep going a little longer.

I liked everything about this book: the story, the procedural details, the characters, and the background colour that makes it seem real. There is a sweet bit of analysis delivered by the Scottish pathologist toward the end that is worthy of Sherlock Holmes. I also appreciated the effort made by the authors to make the book accessible; it includes a foreward giving some background about Botswana, a cast of characters, a map, and a glossary. Highly recommended. It made me want to visit Botswana.

Kubu returns in The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu.

Interview with Michael Stanley at Once Upon a Crime Mystery Books
Interview with Michael Stanley author(s) of A Carrion Death at Sunnie's Book blog
A Carrion Death reviewed at Kittling Books