Once again, while searching for another entry into my self created challenge of reading new authors in 2014, I came across the writer duo of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, who collectively writes crime fiction under the name of Michael Stanley, featuring the Botswana Policeman, Detective David Bengu nicknamed Kubu (Hippopotamus in the Setswana language) for his size.
Set in the southern African nation of Botswana (home of another very famous series created by Alexander McCall Smith) THE DEATH OF A MANTIS begins when a game ranger is found dead in the Kalahari Desert. The three Bushmen who found the dying man, is quickly arrested on suspicion of murder. Detective Kubu, based in Gaborone is asked by a schoolmate of his, Khumanego, a lawyer and a Bushman himself, to look into the matter and stopping the authorities from persecuting the Bushmen unnecessarily. Kubu, going aginst his boss, accepts to help and pushes headlong into the investigation as bodies start piling up one after another.
Detective Kubu, is a fat policeman (like Andy Dalziel), married (unlike Dalziel) with a baby girl. He likes to eat and doesn’t enjoy the salad diet his wife has forced on him. In toto, he comes out as a not-so-remarkable, but a standard fictional protagonist. He loves his family, and his dilemma over choosing between his work and family makes him more of a human. The other characters are shown, including the main culprit, in a one dimensional view.
But the book falls flat in the plot department. What made it sadder was that the plot had the potential to turn out into a page turner, and the authors, upto 65%, were taking the book into that direction. But suddenly the plot changed from being a whodunnit into a howcatchem. No prior warnings, clues or signals were given. The plot was flowing smoothly in one page, and suddenly in the next page the culprit revealed himself. There was not a single page where I felt that the detective had any inclination as to who the main culprit was. For me it’s okay if the reader is baffled, but if it turns out that even the main protagonist was out of his depths and had the culprit not revealed himself would have failed to point him out, puts a lot of question on the ability of both the author and the detective. And even the ending was just the same. Suddenly the detective stumbled upon the culprit. He had no idea, no clue whatsoever as to the whereabouts of the killer. Once again had the culprit chosen to run away, he would have never been caught. Not atleast by Detective Kubu or his creators.
But despite these major shortcomings the book was surprisingly unputdownable. Yes I felt a betrayed by the turn of events, but I never thought of putting the book down. The pace, the suspense, the thrill was ever present, in perfect proportions to make it a perfect work of crime fiction. If only a little art of detection was present, the book would have got a 5 star rating. But, since in a detective novel, the main stay is the detection part I chose to withdraw 2 stars and give it a 3 star rating.
Will you read this book? Yes, you should. Though not written by famous African writers trying to change the African world from their houses, this book, written by two men one living in Africa and the other in USA, while giving you a fast crime novel will also show you the plight of the Bushmen, their culture, the nature of conflict in Botswana between the ethnic people and the modernization all wrapped in a pulpy cover of Crime fiction.