Murder, diamonds and a detective

2008-06-18 00:00

“Michael Stanley” is the penname of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, about whom the book tells us nothing: my impression is that they’re fairly young, that they’ve lived and travelled extensively in Botswana and South Africa and know quite a lot about how both countries work, about policing there, and about diamond mining — and, alas, that they should probably read quite a few more good detective stories before attempting another one.

Not that this is an entirely bad book. It opens with the discovery of human remains near a waterhole in Botswana — remains unidentifiable at first because hyaenas have been pretty destructive, or, perhaps, because someone had deliberately staged the scene and had removed certain evidence.

Assistant Superintendent David “Kubu” (Tswana for hippo) Bengu has suspicions from the start. He’s an engaging character, large, convivial, uxorious, music-loving (especially Mozart opera), and an excellent detective, bright and resourceful. He follows the trail leading from the body through thickets of lies and superstition and uncovers a chain of crimes linked to some of the most powerful people in Botswana. Diamond mining features strongly, and, of course, the brutal trade in blood diamonds from neighbouring countries.

Good solid stuff and excellent material for a thriller. But the book is patchy — perhaps because the co-authors have written separate sections or chapters, or because they lack literary skill. While Kubu is real and decidedly fleshly, other characters are wooden and almost interchangeable, and the authors’ ear for dialogue is woeful. Also, there’s too much to-ing and fro-ing to no particularly good purpose, although it’s not unpleasant to be transported from Botswana to Knysna and Plettenberg Bay and back. Worst is that the villains, upper crust types, mine bosses and the like, are ditchwater dull, scrofulous personalities who couldn’t run a spaza shop, let alone a multi-billion-rand international business.

But Kubu is likeable enough for one to hope he’ll become a series character once the kinks and clumsinesses in plotting and style have been ironed out.

Stephanie Alexander

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