Book Review: Dying to Live by Michael Stanley

Dying to Live
A Detective Kubu Mystery #6
Michael Stanley
Minotaur Books, October 2017
ISBN:  978-1-466-88156-3
Hardcover

The sixth in the series featuring detective Kubu (“hippopotamus” in Setswana, the language of Botswana), this novel has an unusual plot:  a secret plant indigenous to the desert, for which three men are murdered, is the basis for this mystery.  The pathologist Dr. Ian MacGregor, who does the autopsy on a bushman found dead in the desert, discovers an aged body containing youthful organs.  He calls Kubu when he suspects the man was murdered.  It turns out the victim was a highly respected witch doctor who treated a variety of “patients” with a secret potion promising a long life.

Thus begins a long, complicated investigation, in which Kubu is assisted by the first female CID detective, a case that expands when another witch doctor turns up murdered and a visiting anthropologist from the United States goes missing.  As if that’s not enough to keep him busy, Kubu is confronted by another case in which controlled substances, powdered rhino horn, is being smuggled out of the country.  Kubu suspects the two cases are inter-related.

Just as important to this novel, as well as the series, is Kubu’s home life, his relationship with his wife, Joy, and his daughter Tuni, and adopted daughter, Nono, who is HIV positive and suffers a breakdown causing considerable concern until a prescribed cocktail of medicines can be formulated to stabilize her condition.  These aspects give the writing team who authored the book the opportunity to show how human Kubu is, as well as the detective’s well-known appetite.  Other constant features of the series are the atmosphere and characteristics of the Batswana (the people of the nation).  We await the seventh novel in the series after recommending the sixth and current one.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2018.

Book Reviews: Resolve by J.J. Hensley, A Delicate Truth by John Le Carre, and Deadly Harvest by Michael Stanley

ResolveResolve
J.J. Hensley
Permanent Press, April 2013
ISBN: 978-1-57962-313-5
Hardcover

This debut novel probably tells the reader more than he/she wants to know about running a marathon and the various Pittsburgh neighborhoods in which it is run, but it ties together the plot of several murders. Dr. Cyprus Keller is the protagonist.  He is a professor at a relatively undistinguished Steel City university and is one of several academics forming a running group in addition to their teaching responsibilities.

When one of his students is found murdered, he becomes part of the police investigation.  And then several more murders occur, and he is a common denominator.  Deeply involved, he undertakes his own investigation into the crimes, and as a result is an active participant in the developments that arise.  Early on, he discloses that he will murder one person during the marathon, and as the race progresses, the reader awaits the act and how Keller proposes to get away with the deed.

Each chapter begins with a description of the various phases of the 22.2 mile race, sometimes dropping a clue, others just describing the neighborhood or the pain of running.  The summary is then followed by a narrative of events leading up to the novel’s denouement. It is an interesting technique.  While a reader can become bored by a lot of minutiae, the novel is cleverly written and for a first effort deserves praise.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2013.

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A Delicate TruthA Delicate Truth
John le Carre
Viking, May 2013
ISBN: 978-0-670-01489-7
Hardcover

In the present atmosphere of clandestine operations, the result of which the public has been ill-informed and too often kept in the dark, John Le Carre has fashioned a novel built around a bungled black op covered up for three years.  The story begins with the hatching of “Operation Wildfire,” comprising British special force soldiers and American mercenaries employed by a private company.  The aim is to capture an arms dealer who, according to intelligence, is to visit the British colony of Gibraltar.

A Foreign Office functionary is selected to be the on-the-spot eyes-and-ears for a minister of Her Majesty, nominally in charge of the operation.  Like many such actions, it results in failure, but is declared a total success, despite the fact that two innocents are killed and the subject never captured.  Three years later, various persons, directly or tangentially, separately begin to question the silence and attempt to uncover the facts.  The promised “transparency” never seems to arrive.

After a somewhat muddled beginning, in which Mr. Le Carre jumps all around, a bit confusing to the reader, he begins to move the plot straightforwardly and with dispatch.  The author raises the basic question of right and wrong, also lambasting the use of private armies to wage “little wars” around the globe and old boy networks where mistakes are covered up and witnesses bought off.  A topic that is, unhappily, very timely.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2013.

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Deadly HarvestDeadly Harvest
Michael Stanley
Bourbon Street Books/Harper Paperbacks, May 2013
ISBN: 978-0-06-222152-0
Trade Paperback

In this, the fourth Detective Kubu mystery, a new character, detective Samantha Khama, joins the Botswana CID, the only female on the police force.  And immediately shakes things up, insisting on an investigation into the disappearance of young girls.  After initial misgivings, Kubu takes her under his wing, and together they uncover what appears to be the harvesting of human parts for muti, a witch doctor’s potion customarily made with plants and herbs and possibly animal parts, which is supposed to enhance a person’s power or luck.

The plot follows one murder after another beginning with that of a leading opposition politician, followed by that of two young girls. Obviously a serial killer is at large, and Kubu and Samantha have their work cut out for them.

This is a grisly story, rich in detail.  Written by a team of two that is quite knowledgeable of southern Africa, they have created a memorable cast of characters, and it remains to be seen how they will develop this latest, terrific, addition to the Kubu series.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2013.

Book Reviews: The Final Reckoning by Sam Bourne, Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane and Reapers by Frederick Ramsay

The Final Reckoning
Sam Bourne
Harper, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-06-187574-8
Hardcover

Truth and fiction merge in this thriller about survivors of the holocaust taking justice into their own hands, seeking out Nazis and murdering them.  It comes to light when the last survivor of DIN, the secret group of Jewish resistance fighters (yes, there were some) and concentration camp inmates after the war, travels to the UN in New York from London on his last mission and is shot by a security guard.

Tom Byrne, a former UN attorney now in private practice, is retained to go to London, visit the victim’s daughter, and attempt to smooth over any claim she might have.  Instead, he becomes both romantically involved with her and involved in a scheme that eventually has severe repercussions.

Written based on actual people and events of the past, the novel provides emotional ups and downs almost equal in intensity to the horrors of “the final solution.”  It concludes with a suspense that is equally gripping, with solid prose and excellent pacing, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2011.

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Moonlight Mile
Dennis Lehane
William Morrow, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-06-183692-3
Hardcover

There is no denying that Dennis Lehane writes unusual and well-plotted novels.  Yet Moonlight Mile is a difficult book to read, confusing and inconsistent.  It may be the last of the Patrick and Angie series, since they seem to be tired of the PI business, and he is leaning toward leaving the business to undertake a new endeavor.

The plot is relatively simple.  Patrick promises to look for a missing 16-year-old girl, one he had found many years before her present disappearance.  Angie, who was a full-time mommy to three-year-old Gabby, turns the child over to a neighbor to assist Patrick in the endeavor. Along the way, they encounter a bunch of psycho Russian mobsters to enliven the caper.

The characters seem like cardboard cutouts, and a lot of the dialog appears stilted.  These characteristics are unusual in a Lehane novel. Oh well, on to the next one.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2011.

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Reapers
Frederick Ramsay
Poisoned Pen Press, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-59508-806-2
Hardcover

There are some excellent South African novels.  Frederick Ramsay has a particular interest in Botswana, and this is the second novel in what appears to be a burgeoning series featuring an up-and-coming Inspector, Modise, and Ranger, Sanderson.  With the World Cup about to begin in South Africa, various unsavory sorts are spread all over the landscape and Botswana’s officials are up to their eyeballs trying to establish security for visiting dignitaries like a secret meeting between the U.S. Secretary of State and North Koreans, as well as Russian Mafia types seeking to move into the territory, especially a world class casino-hotel being buily by an American in the Chobe river.

To complicate matters, there are some environmental fanatics seeking to spread Orgonite, an ostensible source of energy, to the area, a couple of ne’er-do-wells seeking to cash in on a rare earth shipment, and some murders to occupy the protagonists, not to mention local bribery, smuggling and other side issues.

This highly readable series reflects the author’s deep knowledge of the country, perhaps derived from his son who is an official there. Ramsay authored the popular Ike Schwartz mysteries, which this reviewer also thoroughly enjoyed [and hope he hasn’t forgotten the sheriff].

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2011.

Book Review: Death of the Mantis by Michael Stanley

Death of the Mantis: A Detective Kubu Mystery
Michael Stanley
Harper, September 2011
ISBN No. 978-0062000378
Trade Paperback

David “Kubu” Bengu is assistant superintendent in the Botswana Criminal Investigation Department.  David received the nickname of Kubu a long time ago and it stuck.  Kubu means Jolly Hippo and David is large, does enjoy his food, and has a happy disposition but he is also a very intelligent person with the uncanny ability to sort out clues and come to the proper conclusion when faced with a crime.

Southern Africa is the setting for the Kubu books and offers many interesting facts about Africa and its people.  When Monzo, a game ranger at Mabuasehube, fails to appear at work, it isn’t a big surprise.  Monzo is one that tends to take off on his own without informing his superiors of his actions.  Peter Vusi, head of the ranger station, feels that he would be well rid of Monzo but sent men to look for him. Monzo was found at the bottom of a donga (a dry river course with steep sides).  Three Bushmen were gathered around him and one was trying to pour water in Monzo’s mouth.  Monzo was in critical condition and rushed to a hospital.  Vusi had the unhappy task of notifying Maria, the woman Monzo lived with.

This incident was out of Kubu’s jurisdiction but when he received a phone call from Khumanego, he was taken by surprise.  Khumanego was a friend from primary school and the two had lost touch.  They were a strange pair in school.  Kubu was a share-farmer’s son and Khumanego was a Bushman.  Khumanego’s parents were part of a small nomadic group that roamed southern Botswana and he was sent to Christian relatives for schooling in the hopes of preparing him for a different future. Khumanego trained Kubu in some of the ways of the Bushman and this instilled a respect for the Bushman in Kubu’s eyes.

Now it seemed that Khumanego was unhappy with the fate of the Bushman and now Bushmen were being accused of crimes that they did not commit including the death of two students from Bushman poisoning and the accident that happened to Monzo.  Against his superiors better judgment he allowed Kubu to get involved and attempt to assist Khumanego in his quest to prove the Bushmen innocent of the crimes.

Kubu and his wife Joy are the parents of a new baby and Joy is not at all pleased with the idea of Kubu being away from home for any period of time.  Joy has her hands full with the baby and although Kubu makes attempts at helping he isn’t doing a whole lot of good since he sleeps through the baby crying at night.

As Kubu begins his investigation, he finds that there seems to be much more going on than just the death of the students and Manzo’s accident.  It appears that some kind of treasure hunt is being conducted using some old maps that supposedly lead to treasure that has been long lost.  Kubu finds that his trust in his friend might be misplaced and soon Kubu is in danger of losing his own life.

Death of the Mantis is a wonderful story of two boyhood chums now on different paths of life.  Kubu is seeking the truth and hoping to stop further deaths.  His childhood friend seems to have his own agenda and not one that Kubu approves of.

This series began with A Carrion Death followed by The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu and Death of the Mantis.  Each book can be read as a stand-alone but reading the entire series is a great experience and the settings in Africa are fascinating.

Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip are the two authors that have created this marvelous series writing under the name Michael Stanley.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, August 2011.