“[An] impressive debut. . . . The intricate plotting, a grisly sense of realism and numerous topical motifs . . . make this a compulsively readable novel.” — Publishers Weekly
A Carrion Death offers a gritty, authentic look at modern-day Africa teeming with poachers, deadly diamond dealers and the aftermath of apartheid.
They found the first body—what the hyena didn’t ravage, that is—near a waterhole considered magical by the local people. A string of clues suggests that the victim was murdered and his identity hidden, a mysterious crime tailor-made for Assistant Superintendent David Bengu, nicknamed Kubu (hippopotamus in Setswana) for his ability to trample whatever lies in the path of his objective. Detective Kubu, a clever and resourceful lawman, is determined to rid Botswana of crime and corruption, even if his discoveries following a blood-soaked trail marked by lies and superstition leads him to the most powerful figures in the country: people who would make powerful, dangerous enemies.
A Carrion Death juxtaposes familiar themes of wilderness, superstition, tribal culture and colonialism with the new understandings of Africa's big business and modernity. It is an unforgettable debut.
About 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.
Read an Excerpt
A Carrion Death
Introducing Detective Kubu
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
"Prebble is outstanding; his accents are spot on." -Library Journal Starred Audio Review