The best thing about joining a series part way through is that you get to go back and enjoy all of the bits you missed. When it comes to the Detective Kubu series, there are two titles that were published by Orenda that I hadn’t read. Until now. Today I’m sharing my thoughts on the fist of those books, Deadly Harvest by Michael Stanley. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
A young girl goes missing after getting into a car with a mysterious man. Soon after, a second girl disappears, and her devastated father, Witness, sets out to seek revenge. As the trail goes cold, Samantha Khama – new recruit to the Botswana Criminal Investigation Department – suspects the girl was killed for muti, the traditional African medicine usually derived from plants, sometimes animals, and, recently and most chillingly, human parts.Available from: Amazon | Kobo | Waterstones | Hive | Apple Books
When the investigation gets personal, Samantha enlists opera-loving wine connoisseur Assistant Superintendent David ‘Kubu’ Bengu to help her dig into the past. As they begin to discover a pattern to the disappearances, there is another victim, and Kubu and Samantha are thrust into a harrowing race to stop a serial killer who has only one thing in mind…
I came very late to the Detective Kubu series, actually reading book six first which, at the time, was the latest book published by Orenda. I was immediately taken by the book though and loved the characters I met within the pages. Kubu is brilliant and Samantha Khama every bit his intellectual equal, even if she is lacking in the authority and experience of her senior officer. Combine that with the evocative setting of Botswana and very traditional feel of the investigations, and you are left with a unique but highly enjoyable story and so I was really looking forward to seeing a bit of what I had missed. I was not disappointed.
In Deadly Harvest we meet Samantha at very much the start of her career as a Detective within the Criminal Investigation Unit. Ultra keen but facing the usual prejudice that comes with being the only female Detective in the unit it feels as though everything she is faded with is a battle – not only to find the truth but to find acceptance and acknowledgement from her male peers. Because of this she comes across as a little hard, even standoffish, and when you compare to the more relaxed but no less passionate Kubu, I began to wonder if she could ever find her rhythm or her place. But as it is, it is Samantha who pushes to be allowed to investigate a seemingly impossible case, that of a missing girl from local township, someone the police believe to have just run away. Samantha is not convinced, and over the course of the novel we learn why, and why she is right to feel there is something more than just a case of a young girl who has run away from home.
As readers we are in a unique position – we are with the girl, Lesego, as she is walking home from school. She is bright, happy, perhaps a little distracted, but certainly shows no signs that she would run away, and in the scenes that follow her naivete is clear to all, her fate a little less so. It hardly comes as a surprise that those moments in which we watch her accept a lift from a ‘friend’ are the last time anyone sees her. I could feel the sense of foreboding build, that innate response that makes you want to tell the girl not to go with the other person, whoever they may be. And yet you have to accept the inevitable, as unpalatable as it may be. It is, sadly, a reflection of life, the story built as it is upon a real life case, one which forms the emotional heart of the story and the reason behind Samantha’s insistence the case is investigated.
This is a very complex story that takes us beyond the usual child abduction plotline to something quite a bit darker. When it comes to the fate of the children, whilst their final moments are left off the page, we are left in no doubt as to what has happened to them. The story draws heavily on the idea of traditional medicine, of Witch Doctors and muti, often used for it’s healing properties but given the right belief and the right ‘ingredients’, often believed to be capable of instilling good fortune and great power upon the person who takes it. And in a country being ravaged by AIDS and HIV you can understand why people may turn to alternative methods of medicine. If only the motives in this case were quite so pure. What we find is less about health and more about greed and it led me to despise the people abusing their power, and their wealth, at the expense of the poorer and, in their eyes, more expendable communities around them.
As a lead character, Kubu is a fantastic character. We get to know not only him but his family, and his dedication to them and the job is heartwarming. As a mentor to Samantha he guides her well, and rather than trying to hold her back, tries to take on board all that she brings to him even where, on occasion, he feels her theories fanciful. They do contrast as characters but also compliment each other and they are a brilliant combo to spend time with. There is one other character whose perspective we hear a lot of throughout this book, Witness, the father of one of the missing girls. I felt so much sympathy for him, felt his pain emanate from the page, and even where I didn’t approve of his ultimate actions, I could understand what drove him to them. Grief is an overwhelming emotion and at times his loss was so intense, it made my reactions to the story far more visceral.
The authors capture the essence of the country and the traditions beautifully, the language used carefully to not only to not only drive the story and maintain the tension and sense of unease, but also to create an absolute sense of place. From the city environs to the small townships, that sense of community and tradition that flows through the books gives it a real feeling of authenticity. This is not a pacy novel, it shouldn’t be, but you never feel as though the tension lets up and there are some moments of high action and real jeopardy that get the pulses racing. There is also an kind of inevitability about some of what happens, and an overwhelming feeling of loss at times, but this is tempered with the fun and gentle scenes in which Kubu spends time with his family, wife Joy and daughter, Tumi and a small temporary addition to the family, Nono, whose only living relative has been recently lost to AIDS. Seeing the four of them together, even with Kubu’s extended family, really brings a smile to my face and gives a sense of the man behind the Detective.
Tense, emotional, original and perfectly paced, I loved this and can’t wait to read more in the series. Definitely recommended.
About the Author
Michael Stanley is the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. Both were born in South Africa and have worked in academia and business. Stanley was an educational psychologist, specialising in the application of computers to teaching and learning, and is a pilot. Michael specialises in image processing and remote sensing, and teaches at the University of the Witwatersrand. On a flying trip to Botswana, they watched a pack of hyenas hunt, kill, and devour a wildebeest, eating both flesh and bones. That gave them the premise for their first mystery, A Carrion Death, which introduced Detective ‘Kubu’ Bengu of the Botswana Criminal Investigation Department. It was a finalist for five awards, including the CWA Debut Dagger. The series has been critically acclaimed, and their third book, Death of the Mantis, won the Barry Award and was a finalist for an Edgar award. Deadly Harvest was a finalist for an International Thriller Writers’ award.
Books by the Authors