From the very beginning, I have been a fan of The Number One Ladies Detective Agency series and it’s lovable protagonist, Precious Ramotswe. However, I must admit that the last two novels in the series were not quite upto the mark. Oh, they were good enough but I got a feeling that the characters were stuck in place , that they were not evolving, that the themes were repetitive.
Move aside, Mma. Ramotswe. There’s a new detective in Botswana and his name is David Bengu, popularly known as “Kubu” ( Hippopotamus) because of his nearly 300 lb. chassis. Kubu is an Inspector in the Botswana C.I.D and he makes his debut appearance in A Carrion Death, a novel by MIchael Stanley.( Actually that’s the pen name of the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trillip). Kubu is traditionally built , as Mma. Ramotswe is , he has the same shrewdness and he lives and works in Gaborone but the similarities end there. This novel depicts a different Gaborone than the one described by Alexander McCall-Smith and , like the novel itself, it is more complex, more realistic and , ultimately, more interesting.
A Carrion Death begins with a gruesome find : a human body, half eaten by hyenas and vultures and missing several of it’s limbs. Bongani Sibisi, a Profeesor of Ecology at Botswana University, smartly deduces that it is a case of murder and the police are notified. Enter Inspector Bengu ( Kubu) who confirms the initial assessment but first has to find out whose corpse it is before he can ferret out the murderer. At every step along the way, he seems to run up against the ubiquitous BCMC ( Botswana Cattle and Mining Company) and it’s employees. BCMC is a big player in the economy of Botswana and it and it’s employees have to handled with care. They are an interesting lot. Cecil Hofmeyer, the unscrupulous Chairman and CEO, whose brother, Roland,founded BCMC, before dying in a plane crash ; Roland’s children,the twins Angus and Dianna Hofmeyer,who are about to turn 30 and will be assuming control of the company; Aron Frankental, an honest , hardworking geologist who thinks that someone is stealing high grade diamonds fom the company and Jason Ferraz, the mine manager who doesn’t think much of Frankental’s suspicions and who is Dianna’s lover. Pitted against Kubu are some really unsavory characters. Thembu Kobedi, the pimp and blackmailer; the brutal “Redbeard” for whom murder comes easy and in the background , the mysterious Daniel who seems to be pulling the strings. Kubu’s colleagues are also clearly etched characters. The C.I.D Director ,Jacob Mabaku, who rides Kubu hard; Ian Mcgregor , the hard drinking Scots pathologist who is Kubu’s good friend andEdison Banda and Peter Tiro, Detective Sergeants. The action is fast paced and the bodies fall thick and fast as the pressure mounts on Kubu to get results. Luckily for him he has the love and support of his wife Joy and his parents Wilmon and Amandla. A Carrion Death is a crackling good yarn with a satisfying ending and a loose end that promises further adventures for the likeable Kubu.
Alexander McCall – Smith’s Mma. Ramotswe stories paint a picture of Botswana as an idyllic , if dusty , small town populated by mostly likeable people; even the ‘villains’ are not really villanous. It is a little too good to be true though we all wish it were; that is one of the charms of the Mma. Ramotswe stories. By all accounts Botswana is a stable , peaceful democracy, a rarity in Africa. The people are friendly and courteous but the discovery of diamonds in the 1990’s has brought increasing prosperity as well as new tensions and increased crime. The Botswana that is depicted in A Carrion Death seems much more realistic than the one described in McCall- Smith’s novels. Michael and Stanley have lived in Africa ( one of them makes his home there) and they know the territory.If you would like to read a well written police procedural with engaging characters, riveting action and fascinating glimpses of an exotic continent, I highly recommend A Carrion Death.
As for me, I will still continue to wait for the next Mma. Ramotswe adventure but I will await even more eagerly for Inspector Kubu’s next outing.
A Carrion Death by Michael Stanley. ( Harper Collins, New York, 2008) $ 23.95.
P.S. Inspector Kubu’s favorite drink ( when he is on duty and can’t drink wine or single malt) is a steelworks. I’ve never heard of this drink before and I’m not sure if it’s a Botswana specialty or whether it’s something the authors made up. It is made from cola tonic, ginger beer, soda water and bitters. Kubu drinks them ice cold and preferably two at a time ! Sounds smashing and I plan to try and make steelworks myself though I’ll be drinking them one at a time .