Death Of The Mantis / Michael Stanley

Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip form the writing team of Michael Stanley. They are native South Africans and are writing crime fiction series set in Botswana. Unlike the more famous one set in Botswana, the Detective Kubu series are police procedurals rather than cozies. LibraryThing’s EarlyReviewers had copies, so I grabbed one.

Cover of Death Of The Mantis

Detective Kubu’s real name is David Bengu, but due to his size has received the Kubu nickname. That’s a Botswanan word for hippopotamus, though I don’t recall if the authors ever said which language the word comes from. This is the third book in the series, though he doesn’t make an immediate appearance. The murder happens at the edge of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, when a disliked park ranger disappears and is found by a co-worker with his skull bashed in.

The local detective Lerako seems determined to pin the murder on a trio of local bushmen who were found with the body. The director of Botswana’s investigative division sends Kubu in to make sure Lerako conducts the probe properly. He doesn’t want the police to receive criticism over shoddy work after a previous botched investigation involving bushmen. There’s little in the way of evidence against the bushmen found with the body, so Kubu secures their release but Lerako continues to favor them as the murderers.

Other related crimes and deaths follow, with Lerako continuing to push explanations that involve bushmen as culprits. But the evidence continues to be mixed. One of the victims resides in neighboring Namibia. He comes across a body in the desert after which he’s shot at but escapes unharmed. He exhibits suspicious behavior that Lerako ignores. Kubu must work overtime (literally, his wife gets quite upset with his extended hours) to corral Larako and as the book goes on assumes more and more of the investigative duties.

I did not enjoy this book for three basic reasons. First, I don’t know a whole lot about the Botswana Police Service, but I can’t buy into a police department as unprofessional as the one portrayed here. I get that they may not have the skills, procedure and technology of a first world police. But a professionalism fitted to the Botswana culture has to be there. Lerako pretty much refuses to do any investigation whatsoever except toward convicting his preferred suspects. It feels like this is done to create conflict that isn’t natural. The authors manage to make the national park ranger staff a professional outfit that doesn’t happen with the police.

The second reason is the bad guy. He’s a cliché without subtlety. When the reader find him out, he’s pure B-movie material.

And lastly, there’s no emotional depth to any of the characters, despite a valiant effort by the authors. A significant portion of the ink expounds on the personal relationship between Kubu, his wife, her sister, and his parents. And yet, and yet, again I felt like I was watching people read their lines flatly and go through the motions as if acting like a real family. The words are on the page but the authors are obviously far more at home when writing about the desert, murder weapons, or the actions of men with something to hide.

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