Set in Botswana, A CARRION DEATH introduces the reader to, amongst a lot of other characters, Assistant Superintendent David Bengu. David is a big man. A very big man. As a young man, his friend Angus coined the nickname Kubu - which means Hippopotamus in Setswana. That friend belongs to one of the families in Botswana - his father, until he died, and his uncle have run the Botswana Cattle and Mining Company for many years. His friend - Angus and his twin sister Dianna are about to reach the age at which they inherit and they can take over from their uncle Cecil.
In the meantime a body is found in a wash near a waterhole. It seems the location has been carefully chosen - the waterhole is popular with local animals and there are a lot of predator animals who should have disposed of the remains before they were found. Unfortunately for the killers, a young scientist is working in the area and it is his team that make the discovery. There are some very odd things about this body - most likely a white man, there are very few missing white men in Botswana, and the body is missing an arm, perhaps to further confuse identification, but there are distinctive old breaks in both legs so surely it won't be that hard to match the body to a name. Kubu investigates, from the wash and the nearby tourist resort, back to the capital of Gaborone, through the boardrooms of big business and into the dust and dirt of the desert and the diamond mines.
A CARRION DEATH has a real feel of Africa for a number of reasons. The character of Kubu is somebody you can just see: a tall, stately, large, unflappable man methodically sailing through the investigation. The setting also means that whilst there is some concentration on the city locations, a large part of the book takes place in the desert, in the diamond mines, in the sand and dust and heat of the place. Maybe that is part of the reason why some parts of the book proceed slowly - at a stately pace - thinking more and more about that aspect makes me think that that was a quintessentially African thing. The investigation meanders at points, there's the occasional foray into various private lives, there is Kubu's relationship with his much loved wife and his own parents. It seemed, to somebody who has never been there, to give the entire book an overwhelming atmosphere of Africa. There are a lot of messages about the place and the people woven into the story as well and again, these seem on initial reading perhaps to have been padding, but if you think about it - this is a book set in a place and amongst a people of which the majority of us will know very little.
You will have to slow down to read this book, you will have to revel in the side roads and the meanderings. You may even have to forgive a few investigational hiccups that might not occur somewhere where speed and outcomes are all the rage. You will most likely also find that the last parts of the book drags slowly. But this was a good debut, with an interesting central character, supported by a fantastic location. Hopefully you won't be left like I was - with an overwhelming desire to try Kubu's favourite thirst quencher - a Steelworks. The glossary provided at the back of the books says this is made from cola tonic, ginger beer, soda water and bitters.
Michael Stanley is the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, two South African-born friends who have travelled frequently to the magnificent Botswana wilderness and A CARRION DEATH is their debut novel.