For the love of Botswana

2011-07-20 00:00

AS readers of Michael Stanley’s first two crime novels featuring Botswana’s Detective “Kubu” Bengu know, the name is a combination of those of the two authors, Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip.

It’s rare for such novelistic partnerships to work consistently (only Emma Lathen and Nicci French come to mind), but this one looks set for a cheerfully long run.

This time, Kubu (hippopotamus, a name bestowed during his chubby childhood, and even more apposite in his very solid present) is investigating the case of the death of a ­Kalahari ranger, his corpse surrounded by three bushmen who are arrested.

The case reunites him with his old school friend, Khumanego, a bushman and an advocate for his people and their disappearing traditions. Khumanego claims the men are innocent, and the arrests motivated by racist antagonism — but after their release, another man is murdered in similar circumstances. Are the bushmen to blame, or is it a copycat?

A third murder sends Kubu into the depths of the Kalahari to find the truth — a journey that tests his powers of dete-ction, and his ability to stay alive, to the utmost.

The plot is pretty run-of-the-mill: competently handled, smoothly ­developed. What keeps one reading is the authors’ love of Botswana, of the landscape and of the different peoples who inhabit it and, this time especially, their humane and ­authoritative treatment of the ­cultural traditions and temperament of the bushmen — a term whose use they explain more than satisfactorily in the notes at the end of the book.

Kubu himself, intelligent, ­honourable, a fine detective, a loyal friend, and proud family man who delights in good food and drink, is always a pleasure.

In him, Trollip and Sears have created a robust and believable ­series character, without (unlike some other white authors in this genre) ever treating him as a quaint indigenous pet. Full marks.

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