According to the Forbes 2000 list of 2015, the top three pharmaceutical companies in the world were, Johnson & Jonson followed closely by Pfizer and Novartis, together they were worth $722 Billion. It’s feasible that as I write this or you read it, quite a few of your neighbours, members of your family, maybe even you the reader are on one of their medicines. In certain parts of the world, usually below the equator and in under developed countries but not excluding some developing nations, large swathes of the population prefer to rely on another type of medicine. That prescribed by a witch doctor. They don’t make the money that their 1st world counterparts do but they have an equally big following, god like in some instances. In most cases the difference between these witch doctors and your Novartis’s and Pfizer’s is that your local pharmacy doesn’t ask you to supply the raw materials for the cure yourself. This brings me to this month’s book, its Deadly Harvest by Michael Stanley (www.detectivekubu.com) published by Orenda Books (www.orendabooks.com ).
Set in the vast central southern African country of Botswana, one of the continent’s most stable and democratically successful nations. It is the continent’s largest producer of diamonds and also home to some of largest and lushest game reserves. We witness the abduction of a number of young girls in townships around the country’s capital Gaborone. The police in these outlying areas are under resourced and at times not bothered to expend precious energy in the unrelenting heat, to look for school girls who have wandered off. A couple of months after the disappearances Assistant Superintendent David “Kubu” Bengu of the Botswana CID is approached by his newest member of staff Samantha Khama, a cocky young female detective. She asks for permission to look into the cases, as she grew up in one of the townships. To keep her quiet, occupied and out from under his feet he gives her permission. A couple of days later she’s back with clues, which suggest they maybe have been abducted for “Muti” which is traditional medicine. Then, when a senior police officer and a government minister are killed Kubu and Kharma realise they are dealing with the possibility of serial killing Witch Doctor. Will they find the victims in time? Catch a killer protected by black magic ? Whose clients live in fear of it and will do anything to protect the evil medicine man, even using Muti to derail Kubu’s case and promotional prospects.
This book brought back to my time about 15 years ago when I was working in customer services on the Botswana desk of large international credit card company, which had just introduced one of the first credit cards to the country. The fairly poorly educated population saw the credit limit as an extension of their salary. So delighted were they to have been given what they thought was free money, that they were forever looking for an extension to their credit limit, having maxed out the card by quoting the number in shops even before the actual card itself had arrived from Head Office. Every day the same people usually would phone in going “Arragha… More Pula!”, during my time in that department I got to learn about the country, it’s people and the strange customs such as naming people after what we would consider ordinary everyday items, in the hope it will bring luck or good prospects.
Deadly Harvest is a fantastic read, with a tense original story that draws you
in and holds you enthralled from the first to the last page. There is something very ordinary about this police procedural that had me drawing similarities to it and an episode of Midsommer Murders.
Maybe because there’s no fancy CSI – tech driven, American styled storylines. The Botswana lifestyle and culture keep you and the characters firmly grounded a million miles from other stories which feel like they’ve just been transported out of Vegas or NYC.
One of the funniest aspects is that their Forensics department is using a piece of cutting edge lab equipment ! this is however, borrowed from the South African Police Force for another case. Even in their day to day lives the population of this middle income ,developing nation still have to use internet cafés or shared public computers in pubs and shebeens to do basic stuff on the internet.
Again this helps draw out the real beauty of this non-pretentious African nation which unlike it’s it neighbours has been fairly unscathed by political unrest and has gone from having one of the highest rates of HIV in the world to being at the bottom end of the scale now. Although HIV has left its legacy and this is reflected right the way through book and especially in one of the parallel storylines where David Bengu’s wife is trying to convince him to adopt a friend of his daughters who has been orphaned by the disease.
Assistant Superintendent David Bengu himself is a unique character who through Stanley’s descriptions, had me picturing someone who might look like a result of having fused the genes of Kojacks’s sidekick Stavros and Inspector Morse. Owing to his girth, love of food, opera and wine.
This is the fourth book in the detective Kubu series which was first published in the USA in 2013 and then in the UK late last year. Micheal Stanley is actually a pseudonym for the writing team of South African authors Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, following in the footsteps of other partnerships using one pen name, such as Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and Bill Fawcett – Quinn Fawcett – who wrote the Madame Vernet series and the Mycroft Holmes series, as well as husband and wife team Nicci Gerrard and Sean French who write crime fiction as Nicci French.
The other three books in the series are A Carrion of death, A Deadly Trade (The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu – USA) and Death of The Mantis. A fifth book in series A Death In The Family was just published in August. You can find out more about the authors at their website www.detectivekubu.com
What makes this book such an appealing and a wonderful read is the originality of the story (although I was immediately hooked by the cover art and the blurb on the back) Nowhere else in recent times have I seen the forces of law and order take on the dark forces of black magic Well, not in the last 66 years, from when James Bond tackled drugs lord ‘Mr. Big’ in Ian Fleming’s Live and let Die. (I am open to correction)
Some could argue John Connolly’s books have law and order tackling dark forces, but Charlie Parker is an ex police detective. Even Botswana’s other great literary export The No.1 Ladies detective agency – written by Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith hasn’t got law and Order going toe to toe with a Witch Doctor, because again his heroine Precious Ramotswe is a private citizen.
This along with the fact that it’s unusual to find a police procedural set in a developing nation punching well above its weight and taking on the ever growing influx of Scandi Crime novels as well as the homegrown British and American stalwarts. I think that makes this one of the best pieces of crime fiction I’ve read in a while. So as I prepare to go on my honeymoon to the Algarve next week, I’ll definitely make sure that A Death In The Family will be in the case and if like me your heading away soon for a bit of autumnal sun seeking, make sure you take pick up a copy of Deadly Harvest and make friends with an original down to earth detective in the form of Assistant Superintendent David “Kubu” Bengu .