9 March 2010

Review: A CARRION DEATH, Michael Stanley

Headline Publishing Group 2008
ISBN 978-0-7553-4404-8
404 pages

The body appeared to have been deliberately dumped naked near the waterhole. Or so it seemed from the remains the hyenas had left.

Dales Camp, the bush resort near where the body had been found on the verge of the Central Kalahari Game Reserves in Botswana, is 4 hours drive from the capital Gaborone. Not that Assistant Superintendent "Kibu" Bengu of the Botswana police minds the drive. It gives him the chance to sing opera.

At the crime scene Kubu meets the conservationist who discovered  the body and finds trapped in the bushes a cash slip for petrol. This is the beginning of the tenuous thread the subsequent investigation hangs on. It is obvious that the murderers have tried to hide the identity of the body, but they reckoned without Kubu Bengu.

As the blurb says A CARRION DEATH is set in a world of poachers, witch doctors, diamond-smuggling, and corruption.  For all that, this is a complex and many-threaded tale. It is an impressive debut novel structured in a way that gets the reader thinking. For example, the events are layered in time rather than sequential, so you are forced to take notice of chapter headings. There are little puzzles to solve and as one is resolved, the next presents. It is also populated with engaging characters such as Kubu Bengu, his wife Joy, and his boss Mabake. We've become a little used to detectives who have to struggle against their superiors, which makes Mabake, who wants to think the best of Kubu, a refreshing character. Contrasting with these characters are those who are truly evil, and then there are those who are the dupes, caught in the middle. There are references too to contemporary political issues such as Botswana trying to shake off semi-colonial controls through legacy companies, and blood diamonds.

A CARRION DEATH is among my top reads for 2010. My rating 5.0.

Michael Stanley is the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip.

Both are retired professors who have worked in academia and business. Sears is a mathematician, specializing in geological remote sensing. Trollip is an educational psychologist, specializing in the application of computers to teaching and learning, and a pilot. They were both born in South Africa.

They have been on a number of flying safaris to Botswana and Zimbabwe, where it was always exciting to buzz a dirt airstrip to shoo the elephants off. They have had many adventures on these trips including tracking lions at night, fighting bush fires on the Savuti plains in northern Botswana, being charged by an elephant, and having their plane’s door pop open over the Kalahari, scattering navigation maps over the desert.. These trips have fed their love both for the bush, and for Botswana.

It was on one of these trips that the idea surfaced for a novel set in Botswana.

A CARRION DEATH is their first novel.  

If you'd like to listen

AudioFile Earphones Award winner
A Los Angeles Times Best Book of 2008
A Library Journal Best Audiobook of 2008

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The other comment I feel constrained to make is that  A CARRION DEATH is set in "No 1. Ladies Detective Agency" territory. I know there are those who will try to compare and contrast the treatment of Botswana by both McCall Smith and Michael Stanley. What I think they have in common is their gentle treatment of their protagonist. There is a sort of quirky humour that surrounds both Precious Ramotswe and Kubu Bengu, both physically large, both delightful caring people. If anything I feel the fact that I have read almost all the No. 1 Ladies books in a sense prepared the ground for this much more solid read. There was a lot of "stuff" I didn't have to learn, although Michael Stanley has included a useful glossary.

And now I find that both authors have a new book for me to read. McCall Smith's latest is THE DOUBLE COMFORT SAFARI while Michael Stanley's is THE SECOND DEATH OF GOODLUCK TINUBU (USA) or A DEADLY TRADE (elsewhere).

I have used A CARRION DEATH as part of the 2010 Global Reading Challenge.


Uriah Robinson said...

Kerrie, thanks for this review. Michael Stanley will be at Crime Fest so I think I will have to try and find time to read this one.

Anonymous said...

Kerrie - Thanks, as always, for this excellent review. I'm adding this to my TBR list, too. It's compelling just from your description.

Anonymous said...

Kerrie, I've got a copy of this book in my stacks. In fact, I'm looking over my shoulder and have spotted it. I want to read this soon because my mystery book group is reading all over the world this year. We've been to Africa already with Kwei Quartey, but we can go back. Thanks for sharing!

Dorte H said...

I can see I will have to think about reading this one for the global challenge.

NB: it is good to have you back, but I succeeded in fixing some global challenge links while you were away!

Kiwicraig said...

Hi Kerrie. A CARRION DEATH is already in my TBR pile, but I've actually read their second, A DEADLY TRADE first (and am using this for the 2010 Global Reading Challenge), because the debut had already been reviewed by Good Reading. My review of A DEADLY TRADE should be appearing in the April issue. Good book. I enjoyed it, and Kubu is a fantastic lead character.


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