DEATH OF THE MANTIS is the third book in the Detective David 'Kubu' Bengu series from writing duo Stanley Trollip and Michael Sears, under the pen name of Michael Stanley. (For those that haven't read this series 'Kubu' means hippopotamus which is a commentary on Bengu's size.) I remember, before this book was completed, the authors explaining the life and plight of the Bushman, a race of people who come from the Kalahari Desert, who traditionally live a nomadic, simple existence with their own sacred places, rituals and beliefs - not unlike our own Aboriginal races lifestyle and plight. This aspect was part of the reason I've been greatly looking forward to this book, and I was not at all disappointed. The glimpse into Bushman culture was fascinating, and the other aspects of this series - the humour, the personalities, the mystery were solid.
Bengu and Khumanego were unlikely friends at school just taking their comparative physical attributes into account, but their friendship was based on their joint status as outsiders. Khumanego calls on Bengu after many years of no contact to seek his help when two Bushman hunters are arrested for the murder of a park ranger - an anathema to basic Bushman belief on the sanctity of all life. Meanwhile tribal elder Gobiwasi is revisiting the memories and places of his youth - preparing for his own death in the time-honoured tradition of Bushman culture.
At home things have changed for Bengu and his much loved wife Joy - who are now parents to daughter, Tumi. Tumi's arrival has undoubtedly caused disruption in Kubu's happy home life, and somewhat unexpectedly, Kubu seems to be a little distant, disinterested even in the turmoil his beloved Joy is feeling. This is, perhaps, the only area of these books that may cause a little disquiet in some fans of the series - it does seem that Kubu is being just a tad old-fashioned about this child raising business - absenting himself to follow the case, perhaps not as sensitive to Joy's difficulties as you'd have expected. Other than this slightly odd personal characteristic, Kubu is still Kubu. Implacable, inclined towards the cerebral end of detecting, Kubu is patient, careful and painstaking. But in DEATH OF THE MANTIS he also does something unexpected, something dangerously close to a major mistake,
As befits a continent the size of Africa, the range of crime fiction coming out there is widening, it seems, every day. DEATH OF THE MANTIS is a police procedural, with a distinct African feeling to the action, and whilst there are plenty of deaths and mayhem they aren't extremely violent, nor could you ever say they are on the cosier side. Perhaps the better definition is personality driven, police procedurals, with a real feeling of life in Botswana and highlighting of real, and important issues. Hence I found the window into the life of the Bushmen most rewarding. The similarities between much of their culture and our own local Aboriginal cultures was enlightening, and it was saddening to see the same sorts of insensibility and disregard in the other cultures of both countries.
Delivered with a touch of gentle wit and a personality that seems to fit perfectly in a hippopotamus of a man, Bengu feels intrinsically part of the landscape. The crimes that the authors work into their books come from that landscape, as do the investigations and the solutions. Botswana is as much a part of these stories, as is Bengu's family, his friends, colleagues and in the case of DEATH OF THE MANTIS the Bushmen, the victim's, and the motivation for these crimes which all seem to just be perfectly of the place that they come from. It will be interesting to see how fans of the series react to this book, but it would be even better to see new readers immerse themselves in Bengu's Botswana.
(All the books come with a glossary and a pronunciation guide for readers who like to know the details of what they are reading about).