To most of us, Botswana seems like an exotic and distant place, full of unfamiliar customs and strange beliefs. The writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip (writing as Michael Stanley) set out to change that a number of years ago with their mystery series featuring Detective David “Kubu” Bengu. This week, the fourth book in that series, Deadly Harvest, was released and once again they manage to make the reader feel as though they are in this South African country rather than just reading about it.
When readers were first introduced to Kubu, they had no way of knowing the journey into the mysterious and fascinating culture he was about to lead them on. Now, with Deadly Harvest, readers will see the darkest side of Botswana life yet.
Kubu is a lovable family man who is dedicated to his important job and tries to always do the right thing. Plump beyond excess, his nickname means hippopotamus In Setswana and his love of food is legendary. Deadly Harvest does see some changes in his family life however. His wife, Joy, has asked to take in an HIV-positive orphan girl, while they seek out an appropriate new home for her. His daughter, Tumi, is thrilled to have a new playmate to share adventures with. Unfortunately, Kubu is also noticing that his father’s memory is not what it used to be and his mother continues to compensate for her husband’s foibles.
On the work-front, Kubu is asked to investigate a vandalism crime against William Marumo, a controversial political party member. After determining that this was just a senseless act of intimidation, Kubu is stunned when Marumo is later found murdered. With the upper echelons of the police force watching their every move, Kubu and his team must act fast to prove that they are not incompetent.
Meanwhile, the newest member of the team, Samantha Khama, is assigned an abducted-child cold case. As the first female detective on the force, she wants to make a good showing on this case. A second missing-child case places her at the forefront of an active investigation which just might have ties to the political murder Kubu is working to solve.
This is where the real darkness comes in. Mixed up in all of these crimes is the traditional practice of muti. Performed by witch-doctors, muti is the creation of potions that will imbue individuals with desired attributes. But suppose, rather than the standard herbal ingredients, one witch-doctor has taken to using human parts in his or her potions?
Michael Stanley manages to pack all of this into a novel that will keep the reader turning the pages, highlighting the dangers faced within other cultures that are very different from our own. In the most extreme example, we have muti, but also Stanley makes us see the more human failings related to AIDS awareness in a country that doesn’t have the funds to mass educate its people. And yet, through it all, the author reinforces similarities in the human condition with things like a parent’s fear for their missing child, a child’s futility when faced with the aging of his father, and a country’s fear about a new political regime.
Read Deadly Harvest for the fascinating and scary mystery of the witch-doctor with the baboon-head mask, but remember Deadly Harvest for the examination of life in a distant location that is not as fortunate as our own.