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A Carrion Death

27 February 2019

A Carrion Death (Detective Kubu, #1)A Carrion Death by Michael Stanley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We read the third book of this series, Death of the Mantis, liked it, and then read the second A Deadly Trade. But the library did not have the first book, so we ordered it from a bookshop and I have now finished reading it. It is every bit as good as the other two, and in some ways better.

These are detective stories — whodunit/police procedurals — with a local southern African flavour, set in Botswana, and are interesting on that account alone, since we have been at or near many of the locations mentioned in the stories.

A word of warning, however. Many readers of The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency and others of that series , also set in Botswana, should be aware that these are police procedurals. This is not about a private eye looking for stray dogs and errant husbands, but cops looking for killers.

Being local also adds authenticity to the plot, and A Carrion Death seems almost prophetic, because it rings truer now than it would have ten years ago when it was first published. The kind of thing that happens in the story is what we see on TV all day every day (except weekends) with live blow by blow accounts of corrupt deals involving prominent businessmen and politicians.

Such corruption is not unique to southern Africa, of course. Every day I see my social media friends posting links to similar reports of corruption in other countries: Australia, Canada, the UK, the USA and more.

The characters are also believable and consistent with what we had learned about them in the later books in the series.

This one, however, hints at bigger mysteries than the other two books (and it looks as though later books in the series may expand on that theme), and that is the supernatural thriller. I had recently finished reading All Hallows Eve by Charles Williams, a master of the genre. In that an investigation of a murder gets nowhere until it linked to the activities of a satanist. In A Carrion Death there are mysterious appearances of a witchdoctor, who seems to have an uncanny knowledge of what is going on when the police are baffled.

But one mystery, which I had hoped would be solved by this book, remains, and it is more puzzling than ever. I thought that, being the first of the series, it would tell more of the backstory of the characters, but in that respect, it disappoints.

How does a young ecologist, Bongani Sibisi, who seems to be a Motswana of the Batswana, whose roots seem to go deep into Botswana soil and traditional culture (it is he who encounters the mysterious witch doctor) end up with a Zulu name? Enquiring minds want to know!

That surely needs some explanation , and having wondered about it in the other two books, I hoped that all would be revealed here. But it wasn’t.

Everything else about the books rang true. I could see no notable anachronisms, and the descriptions of places and what the characters did there seemed to be true to the time and the place. The only thing that stuck out like a sore thumb was the foreign names of some of the characters, with no explanation of what they were doing in Botswana.

Even the surname of the protagonist, detective David “Kubu” Bengu sounds a bit foreign. And there are others — people in the Botswana police with names like Zenele and Mandla. Was Botswana so short of trained police officers that it had to import them from Zululand?

In spite of that unresolved mystery, I still give the book five stars. It was excellent in every way but that one. Oh, and one other small discrepancy. One of the murder victims was said to have been shot by a .22 bullet, which later turned to have come from a 9mm Beretta pistol, which, in my memory, is quite a bit bigger than a .22,

I’d better stop here before I think of something else that doesn’t fit. I still think it was an excellent read, and lovers of crime and detective stories who live in southern Africa and have lived on a diet of stories set in the UK, the USA or Sweden might find this one more involving because the settings, characters and plots are local.

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