A Carrion Death (Detective Kubu Series #1)

A Carrion Death (Detective Kubu Series #1)

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by Michael Stanley

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Smashed skull, snapped ribs, and a cloying smell of carrion. Leave the body for the hyenas to devour—no body, no case.

But Kalahari game rangers stumble on the human corpse mid-meal. The murder wasn't perfect after all. Enter Detective David "Kubu" Bengu of the Botswana Criminal Investigation Department, an investigator whose


Smashed skull, snapped ribs, and a cloying smell of carrion. Leave the body for the hyenas to devour—no body, no case.

But Kalahari game rangers stumble on the human corpse mid-meal. The murder wasn't perfect after all. Enter Detective David "Kubu" Bengu of the Botswana Criminal Investigation Department, an investigator whose personality and physique match his moniker, the Setswana word for hippopotamus—which is a seemingly docile beast, but one of the deadliest, and most persistent, on the continent.

Beneath a mountain of lies and superstitions, Kubu uncovers a chain of crimes leading to the most powerful figures in the country—cold-bloodedly efficient and frighteningly influential enemies who can make anyone who gets in their way disappear.

Editorial Reviews

Boston Globe
“More smart than bloody. . . . A marvelous debut.”
New York Times Book Review
“A first novel saturated with local color. . . . Readers may be lured to Africa by the landscape, but it takes a great character like Kubu to win our loyalty.”
Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Delightful. . . . Plot twists are fair and well-paced, the Botswana setting has room to breathe and take shape as its own entity, and Stanley’s writing style is equal parts sprightly and grave.”
Marilyn Stasio
…a first novel saturated with local color…Kubu is…hugely appealing—big and solid and smart enough to grasp all angles of this mystery. Readers may be lured to Africa by the landscape, but it takes a great character like Kubu to win our loyalty.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

This impressive debut from Stanley, the South African writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, introduces overweight assistant superintendent David Bengu of the Botswana Police Department, whose nickname is, fittingly, Kubu (Setswanan for hippopotamus). In investigating the case of a partially consumed human body found in a remote area of a game reserve, Kubu keeps running across tangential links to Botswana Cattle and Mining, the country's largest company. As more people connected to the case turn up dead, Kubu realizes that multiple murder may be just the byproduct of a much more heinous crime. The intricate plotting, a grisly sense of realism and numerous topical motifs (the plight of the Kalahari Bushmen, diamond smuggling, poaching, the homogenization of African culture, etc.) make this a compulsively readable novel. Despite a shared setting with Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, this fast-paced forensic thriller will resonate more with fans of Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Readers and listeners will welcome the arrival of Assistant Superintendent David "Kubu" Bengu of the Botswana Criminal Investigation Department into the mystery/thriller genre. Writing under the pseudonym of Michael Stanley, authors Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip offer a glimpse into the world of sub-Saharan Africa and the various types of people-e.g., businessmen, poachers, police, expatriates-who call it home. The narration by 11-time AudieA Award finalist Simon Prebble is outstanding; his accents are spot on. Highly recommended. [Audio clip available through www.tantor.com; the Harper hc, published in April, made the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers list and was recommended "for readers who enjoy crime novels with African settings," LJ3/1/08; expect a second series entry.-Ed.]
—Scott R. DiMarco

School Library Journal

A skeleton is found in the Kalahari Desert in modern-day Africa. It is unclothed, one of its arms is missing, and its teeth have been knocked out, making identification difficult. It falls to Det. David Bengu (aka Kubu) of the Botswana police to figure out what happened; in the meantime, more deaths follow. This well-plotted debut introduces a new mystery series and will enthrall readers, who should be aware that the author's detailing of the cultural and social background of the Botswana people shares equal footing with the solving of the murders. Stanley is the writing duo of South Africans Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, who have shared adventures in the Kalahari. For readers who enjoy crime novels with African settings, such as those by Richard Kunzmann and Deon Meyer.

—Jo Ann Vicarel Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
From the Publisher
"Prebble is outstanding; his accents are spot on." —Library Journal Starred Audio Review

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Detective Kubu Series, #1
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.82(d)

Read an Excerpt

A Carrion Death
Introducing Detective Kubu

Chapter One

The hyena moved off when the men shouted. It stood about fifty yards away, watching them with its head low between powerful shoulders, wary, not fearful, waiting for its chance to retake the field. The men stood in silence, staring at what the hyena had been eating.

Yellowed bones pierced through areas of sinew and desiccated skin. The head, separated from the spine, lay about a yard away. Remnants of skin on the upper face stretched in a death mask over the skull and pulled at the scalp. The lower part of the face had been torn away, and the back of the skull was smashed by jaws hungry for the brains. The eye sockets were empty, save for dried blood; one of the vultures had already had a turn. Snapped ribs lay scattered, but the backbone and pelvis were intact. One leg remained attached; the other was gone. The lower half of one arm was missing; the other, freshly crunched by the hyena, lay a short distance away. There was a cloying smell of carrion, unpleasant but not unbearable. The scavengers had removed most of the flesh, and the desert sun had desiccated the rest. The flies, less cautious than the hyena, had startled to a buzzing swarm but now resettled, fat green jewels on the dirty bones.

"It's definitely a man," said Andries unnecessarily.

Bongani was staring at the bodiless head.

"It's not one of our people," Andries continued. "Would've heard that somebody was missing. It'll be one of those bloody poachers that have been causing trouble up north. Damned cheek, coming this close to the camp." Andries gave the impression that the man had got his justdeserts, given this lack of proper respect for the authorities.

Bongani looked at the area around the corpse. Thorn acacias, trees typical of Kalahari stream verges, were scattered along the edges of the dry river. Vultures brooded in the branches, waiting for another chance at the remaining scraps should the men and the hyena withdraw. The riverbanks consisted of mud baked to hardness by the sun. From there scattered tufts of grass spread away from the bank, becoming less frequent as they battled the encroaching sand. Beyond that the desert had won, and the first slope of loose sand ran up to the Kalahari dunes, which stretched endlessly into the haze.

The two men stood under one of the trees, its canopy cutting off the heat, its roots sucking moisture from the subterranean water. The body sprawled on the edge of a mess of twigs, leaves, and branches that had fallen to the ground over the years. Behind it lay the sand bed of the long-vanished river, patterned with tracks of animals, some old with the edges of the imprints crumbling, and some as recent as those of the disturbed hyena.

Bongani spoke for the first time since they had spotted the vultures circling. "Do you have problems with white poachers here?"

Andries just looked at him.

"Look at the head. There's still some hair left on the scalp."

Andries knelt next to the skull and examined it more closely. Although the hair was fouled with blood, one could tell it was straight and perhaps two inches long. This was a disturbing development. These days game reserves survived on tourists rather than conservation imperatives, and bad publicity would be unwelcome.

"You wouldn't expect to find a poacher down here anyway. You just said so," Bongani pointed out. "And why on his own in a dangerous area? They don't operate like that."

Andries was reluctant to give up his simple diagnosis. "Some of them aren't in gangs, you know. Just hungry people trying to get some food." But he knew it would never wash with that straight hair. "But not the white ones," he admitted. "It'll be some damn fool tourist. Has a few too many beers in the heat and decides to take off into the dunes to show how macho he is in his four-by-four that he's never had off-road before. Then he gets stuck." The retributive justice of this new idea made him feel a little better.

Bongani focused farther up and down the river. The wind, animals, and the hard stream verge could explain the lack of footprints, but a vehicle track would last for years in these conditions. It was one of the many reasons why visitors had to stay on the roads.

"Where's the vehicle?" he asked.

"He'll have got stuck in the dunes and tried to walk out," Andries replied.

Bongani turned back to the body. The lengthening afternoon sun highlighted the dunes and concentrated his attention. "Wouldn't he follow his vehicle tracks back to the road?" he asked.

"No, man, he'd realize that this stream would join the Naledi farther down—nearer the camp—and take the short cut. You'd be three miles at least from the road up there," said Andries, waving vaguely upstream, "and you'd be climbing up and down through the dunes all the way."

Bongani grimaced and turned to stare at Andries. "So let's see. Your tourist has too much to drink and sets off into the dunes, probably in an unsuitable vehicle—by himself, since no one reports him missing. He gets stuck and then has enough knowledge of the local geography to realize that following the watercourse will be the easy way back to camp. However, he doesn't realize how much dangerous game he may encounter in the river. And, by the way, he's working on his suntan at the same time, because he sets off naked."

Andries looked down. "What makes you think he was naked?" he asked, ignoring the rest.

"Well, do you see any cloth scraps? The animals wouldn't eat them, certainly not with bone and bits of sinew still left. And what about shoes? Animals won't eat those either." Bongani continued to watch the changing light on the sand dunes while Andries silently digested this new challenge.

A Carrion Death
Introducing Detective Kubu
. Copyright © by Michael Stanley. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Prebble is outstanding; his accents are spot on." —-Library Journal Starred Audio Review

Meet the Author

Michael Stanley is the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. Sears was born in Johannesburg, grew up in Cape Town and Nairobi, and teaches at the University of the Witwatersrand. Trollip was also born in Johannesburg and has been on the faculty of the universities of Illinois, Minnesota, and North Dakota, and at Capella University. He divides his time between Knysna, South Africa, and Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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A Carrion Death 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
macabr More than 1 year ago
A CARRION DEATH is a big story, filled with interesting characters, more than a few mysteries, and immersion for the reader into the country and culture of Botswana. It also gives us Assistant Superintendent David Bengu, known to all as Kubu, hippopotamus. Kubu is one of the best characters in fiction. He loves his wife, his country and its culture, wine, his job, his dog, and opera. He is a 21st century man, dealing with 21st century crimes that are the result of motives as old as mankind. The story opens with the discovery of the partially eaten body of a white man by Kalahari game wardens. The condition of the body suggests that it has not only been attacked by animals acting according to their nature but also by humans acting against their's. Missing teeth and severed limbs are the work of those who want to prevent this man from being identified. As the story progresses so does the body count. People are missing and questions arise about identities. What was thought to be a murder might not be and what was determined to be an accident in nature was probably not. And at the end of it all is a villain motivated by at least four of the seven deadly sins: pride, anger, greed, and jealousy. Michael Stanley (Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip) have written a saga. It is a mystery and a cultural education. The characters are people we want to meet again.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Near a waterhole in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana, game rangers Andries and Bongani find the partial human remains as the best cleaners of a crime scene, hyenas were not quite finished devouring the corpse. The rangers collected enough evidence to make the case that a homicide not a tragic accident occurred. --- Botswana Criminal Investigation Department Assistant Superintendent David 'Kubu' Bengu leads the investigation. As Kubu follows clues partially concealed by local superstition and more so by powerful killers with high level contacts intent on hiding the crime and much more, he mimics the 'hippopotamus' that he is nicknamed for as he calmly but resolutely makes inquiries. With Mozart and other classical greats to entertain him as he drives the dusty roads, Kubu risks his life from those who will kill anyone including a persistent detective¿s loved ones to keep the truth from surfacing. --- The police procedural story line is superb with a strong obstinate hero however the tale belongs to the insightful look at Botswana, a landlocked South African presidential representative democratic republic. The action-packed story line brings to life the people and cultures of a country struggling to avoid the problems besetting many of their neighbors to include tribal rivalries, government corruption, and avaricious poachers and smugglers ripping off the natural resources. The author team Michael Stanley provides the excellent debut of a police detective and readers will clamor for more investigations by this lover of the Magic Flute. --- Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Highly recommend this unique, entertaining, and well-crafted look into African life. Unforgettable characters.
TheReadingWriter More than 1 year ago
Michael Stanley is actually two authors. It must be a wonderful experience--wonderfully difficult, wonderfully rewarding--to work so closely with someone as on a work of fiction. A Carrion Death is the first of their attempts and they succeed, if not unequivocably. The mysteries are set in Botswana, and I am infinitely grateful that listening to Lisette Lecat read Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series has allowed the unusual city names to roll off my tongue like a native. Molepolole, Mochudi, Gabarone seem familiar to me now, but I'm glad they included the map in the front of the book. I adore mystery series where the deaths are not gruesome and the investigators are civilized. A little bit of moral ambiguity, a few philosophical dilemmas, a human fraility or two, and voila! I am entranced. But I did feel a formula at work here. I look forward to the second in the series to see if the authors managed to set themselves free.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the locale and the characters. Very entertaining.
PearlMM More than 1 year ago
I bought this book because I like books about Africa and also like the Ladies Detective series set in Africa. This, in comparison, wasn't quite as interesting as to the characters involved. It was still interesting though and I would recommend it to anyone who likes the Alexander McCall Smith detective series.
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