A human body that has been picked over by hyenas is found near a resort in a remote part of Botswana. There are few clues to the person’s identity other than it’s a white person. Assistant Superintendent David ‘Kubu’ Bengu needs to use all his ingenuity to find out who the person is and how they ended up in such a predicament. His investigations take him in many directions including to the most influential company in the country which incorporates diamond mines among its many interests.
The character of Kubu is one the outstanding features of this novel. He is a happily married, opera-loving, overweight chap whose childhood nickname of Kubu (meaning hippo) has stuck through to his adulthood. He is also a tenacious and clever detective who is willing to access help from whatever source he can find it. Although he does have a couple of odd quirks that crime writers love to give their protagonists (singing opera while driving across the country for example), Kubu is still a very natural and realistic character. He gets on well with his boss (who is neither a moron nor a monster) and even hosts a dinner party with his wife Joy for family and friends. Such things are perfectly normal in real life but stood out for me here as being the kind of thing you don’t see a lot of in crime fiction.
Given that I primarily read A Carrion Death as part of my fulfillment for the 2010 Global Challenge I was pleased it evoked such a sense of its location. The vast distances that Kubu has to travel in order to carry out his investigations and the remote desert setting for several key events acted together to give a strong sense of the relatively sparsely populated and land-locked country. Although in some ways it is quite different to the country depicted in Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series the importance given to all family relationships is a common trait between the two Botswanas. Here the family element is demonstrated repeatedly, most memorably for me when Kubu travels to South Africa and observes many beggars which he says would never happen in his country as people would be too ashamed to let even distant relations resort to such measures.
The book did suffer a little from ‘first book syndrome’ where every idea the authors had seemed to be thrown into the mix with the consequence that some of the threads were not terribly well thought through or relevant (the witchdoctor for example really added neither local flavour nor plot development). Tighter editing of these portions and the several repetitions of ‘the case to date’ segments might have made a dent in the book’s excessive length which would, in my humble opinion, have made it a better product. However the complex story does unfold well, including the time jumps in the first third of the novel, and the main thread is resolved in a manner in keeping with the rest of the story which is becoming something of a rarity these days.
Michael Stanley is a pseudonym for two authors, Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, but however they apportion the writing tasks their collaboration appeared seamless to me. A Carrion Death is a thoroughly enjoyable romp of a tale and you’d be hard pressed not warm to the character of Kubu. I’m certainly looking forward to reading the second novel in the series soon.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 4/5
Publisher: Headline ; ISBN: 9780755344062; Length 557 pages; Setting: Botswana, present-day.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦