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Sunday, 16 October 2016

‘A Death in the Family’ by Michael Stanley

Published by Orenda Books,
15 August 2016.
ISBN: 978-1-910633-22-9

This is the fifth title in the Botswana-set series featuring Assistant Superintendent David ‘Kubu’ Bengu. This time the victim is Kubu’s own father who was shot in the street at night. He had told Kubu’s mother that he was going to meet someone but he is elderly and rather confused and no-one can be sure whether that was really so. Kubu’s boss, Jacob Mabaku, tells Kubu that because the victim was his father he cannot be involved in the investigation which will be handled by Detective Samantha Khama instead. However, Kubu is determined to find out whatever he can. But almost immediately he is directed to look into the apparent suicide in his car of the civil servant Goodman Kunene, the assistant director of the Botswana Department of Mines. Then it appears that Kunene did not commit suicide but was murdered. He too had arranged a meeting with an unknown someone that night. And forensic examination of Goodman’s car has produced one piece of evidence: a single hair, not African, probably Asian. Goodman’s friend, the American mining engineer and consultant Peter Newsom, is attacked and beaten up; however, Kubu suspects that Newsom is not just a simple mining engineer. 

Meanwhile, the nearby village of Shoshong is in turmoil over proposals to extend a local mine; some support it because it will bring jobs to the village; others are against because they suspect that, although land will be taken and houses demolished, the jobs will not materialise. Meetings are called and one turns into a riot in which the village chief, Rankoromane Koma, and several others are killed. And unknown to everyone else, the chief’s son Julius has been meeting secretly with a Chinese mining firm. Julius is a suspect for his father’s death and Kubu discovers that there is a link between that and his own father’s death and that Chinese involvement is a factor. 

Michael Stanley is in fact, two writers, Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. In my review of his previous title, Deadly Harvest, I described Kubu as a remarkably attractive protagonist; he is no less so in this book. At the same time the authors have tackled two dark subjects, the all-pervasive corruption, and the effect of Chinese ambitions to exploit the country’s natural resources without employing local people as has, the authors tell us, happened in Namibia and parts of Botswana. And there is both a list of characters with a guide to pronouncing names and a glossary – very useful and instructive. Very much recommended.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Michael Stanley is the writing name of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. Both natives of Africa, they have travelled regularly together to Botswana and Zimbabwe over the past twenty years to experience the country with its wide diversity and interesting peoples. Their books reflect the authentic Africa of the 21st century: not merely the politically unstable, desperately poor Africa of the nightly news, but also the emotional conflicts of people with one foot in traditional culture and the other in Western-instigated globalism. The new Africa is not the safari jungle, but a collection of diverse groups and nations struggling to find their way in a rapidly changing context. It was at the lion research center in the Savuti, an ancient dried-up lake in Botswana's Chobe National Park, that they realized how to conceal a perfect murder. They watched a hyenas team up to drive lions off their fresh kills, then devour everything in sight, bones and all. By the next morning, no evidence remained of the carcass. Botswana offered the ideal setting for such a literary revelation. This was the kernel of the idea that led to our first book, A Carrion Death

Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.

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