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A Carrion Death: Introducing Detective Kubu    by Michael Stanley order for
Carrion Death
by Michael Stanley
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 2008 (2008)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Don't assume that because A Carrion Death is set in Botswana, it resembles Alexander McCall Smith's cozy No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. Though the Batswana characters are as original, and in many ways as innocent, as Precious Ramotswe and her friends, the crimes and action in this gritty thriller are entirely different. It's an unusual debut novel by Michael Stanley (a pseudonym for two authors - retired university professors Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip - writing in partnership).

The mystery - whose chapters are introduced by relevant quotes from Shakespeare - opens on the discovery of the mangled body of a white man being eaten by a hyena beside the Kamissa waterhole (a sacred place to the Bushmen) on the verge of the Central Kalahari game reserve. University ecology researcher Dr. Bongani Sibisi and the game ranger who accompanies him assume they've found the remains of 'some damn fool tourist' who got lost - until they discover evidence of murder.

The case is assigned to Assistant Superintendant David 'Kubu' Bengu of the Botswana Criminal Investigation Department, whose offices are in the capital of Gaborone. Bengu was given the nickname Kubu (Setswana for hippopotamus) by his good friend Angus Hofmeyr, whom he met at school and who shared his passion for cricket - though they appear placid, hippos can be determined and deadly when aroused.

Kubu is quite a character with his love of food and wine, his 'not inconsiderable bulk', his tendency to laugh at his own foibles, and his fondness for playing operatic CDs on long drives - and singing along with gusto. A childhood Bushman friend taught him to observe small details of desert life, 'how to look beyond the obvious, how to explore below the surface, to notice what no one else would see' - and these skills have been key to his career. When Kubu and police pathologist Dr. Ian MacGregor examine the body, they discover that part of an arm has been cut off and care has been taken to remove the teeth to prevent identification.

The authors thicken a clever, intricate plot with dynastic greed in an international conglomerate (the Botswana Cattle and Mining Company); longstanding blackmail ; a business savvy femme fatale; a witch doctor, who wants something from Bongani; smugglers; blood diamonds; and a pile-up of corpses. In Kubu's corner is his loving - and tough when needed - wife Joy, her travel agent sister Pleasant, Kubu's irascible (but supportive) boss, and his new friend Bongani. Family get-togethers offer the detective respite from the constant pressure of the high profile case, which has a surprising resolution. I highly recommend A Carrion Death to you and look forward to more of this intriguing and colorful new series.

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