A Year of Orenda – Dying to Live by Michael Stanley

Today I’m delighted to reshare my thoughts on Dying to Live by Michael Stanley as our Year of Orenda celebrations continue. This was my first taste of the Detective Kubu series and my first time reading Sunshine noir but I loved it. You can read my reviews of earlier books in the series, Deadly Harvest and A Death In The Family. Read on to find out what the book is all about:

Source: Advance Reader Copy

About the Book

When the body of a Bushman is discovered near the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, the death is written off as an accident. But all is not as it seems. An autopsy reveals that, although he’s clearly very old, his internal organs are puzzlingly young. What’s more, an old bullet is lodged in one of his muscles … but where is the entry wound?

When the body is stolen from the morgue and a local witch doctor is reported missing, Detective ‘Kubu’ Bengu gets involved. Kubu and his brilliant young colleague, Detective Samantha Khama, follow the twisting trail through a confusion of rhino-horn smugglers, foreign gangsters and drugs manufacturers. And the deeper they dig, the wider and more dangerous the case becomes…

A fresh, new slice of ‘Sunshine Noir’, Dying to Live is a classic tale of greed, corruption and ruthless thuggery, set in one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes, and featuring one of crime fiction’s most endearing and humane heroes.

My Thoughts

Wow. What a book. I’ve got to be honest – I’d never really thought about the concept of sunshine noir before I read this book. It seems like quite the contradiction even pairing those two words together and yet that is what this is. Despite the pacing and the tone of this book being slower than your typical noir offering – this is about the desert, the bush and towns and cities of Botswana, not the sprawling metropolis that is New York after all – do not let that fool you. There is still a really high level of tension and suspense which is somehow only heightened by the relative tranquility and remoteness of the setting.

Not only is this not your every day noir setting, this is not your every day case either. From the off there is something very odd about the crime – the body of an old bushman found abandoned on the edge of a game reserve. And yet nothing can appear quite as odd as what the pathologist uncovers during the post mortem. For this man is as big a contradiction as the idea of ‘sunshine noir’. Old on the outside, young on the inside; nobody can quite determine just how old he is. Many say he has been around for decades, that he has a secret ‘muti’ ingredient which keeps him as sprightly as a teenager but this simply can’t be true. But then two more people go missing, one an anthropologist and one a renowned Witch Doctor, and thus begins the mystery.

Although this was my first Kubu story I instantly fell in love with both character and setting. The authors have done such a brilliant job of recreating the Botswana landscape and culture in their writing that you could almost feel the oppressive heat rising from each page, feel the sand as it brushed against your skin and sense the unease amongst the local people for the disruption that the police investigation caused them. You also get an overwhelming sense of the man, of Detective Kubu, as you see not only the dedication he has to his job, but the love he has for his family. It is a rare crime story in which family can feature so strongly without taking over and yet there is a perfect balance and blend of the two here. Kubu and his wife Joy go through a challenge which will break any parent’s heart. The way in which he faces this only serves to make Kubu appear human and lovable, and yet does not detract from the seriousness or focus with which he approaches his job and responsibilities.

I immediately warmed to this man, and especially the way his caring nature extends beyond his devotion to his family, to the Detectives in his employ too. It is not the same, not by a long chalk, and yet it is clear that, in his own way, Kubu is looking out for those in his team, especially Detective Samantha Khama. An enthusiastic and idealistic young Detective, she has a lot to learn from Kubu, but without appearing to try he is able to steer her on a sensible path with her investigation, and together they make for an interesting pairing. And I love the idea of Kubu mentoring Constable Ixau and helping him reach Detective. Again, there was just something about Ixau, his natural tendency to look beyond the obvious, which just made him appeal to me. I think he will be an interesting character to see develop and I truly hope he features in future stories.

Now there are some dark subjects touched upon in this book but none in a gratuitous way. It is a sad truth about the customs and cultures in some countries that traditional practices such as human mutilation and sacrifice, while in no way legal, can still occur. This is what Samantha wants to see come to an end in Botswana, particularly the sacrifice of young women and girls, and her vehement hatred of the Witch Doctors who conduct these sinister practices threatens to colour her investigation into the missing men. But the tale reaches far beyond simply decrying the macabre, looking instead at the mysticism of the inexplicable. To the idea that, however ludicrous it may seem to those of us who trust only western medicine, there is more to this world than the eye can see and not everything can be easily explained by science. It certainly got the mind whirring, as did the constantly winding threads of the story, first leading the reader on a journey of misdirection before weaving their way to an almost blindsiding conclusion.

I was intrigued from first page until last. Loved it and I shall be back for more.

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

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