Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Carrion Death - Michael Stanley

Detective David "Kubu" Bengu of the Botswana Criminal Investigation Department is on the case when Kalahari game rangers discover a body being devoured by hyenas. There is enough of the corpse left to discover that the individual did not die of natural causes.

Kubu's investigation leads him to the family of an old school friend, Angus Hofmeyr. Angus's family owns the Botswana Cattle and Mining Company (BCMC). It has been run for years by Angus's uncle, Cecil Hofmeyr, but will be turned over to Angus on his 30th birthday. As Kubu continues to investigate, more "hinky" details concerning the BCMC start to surface, as well as more dead bodies.

A Carrion Death is nothing short of brilliant. My summary of the plot oversimplifies the complexity of this first novel by authors Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. I listened to it on audio, and while the narrator, Simon Prebble, did a fantastic job, if I were going to do it over, I would physically read the book. The story is not told in a strict chronological order so the reader has to be keenly aware of where the plot is at all times or it is extremely easy to end up lost. There were many times I would have liked to have flipped back to reread a section to make sure I was "up to par" on what was going on. And many of the names have similar sounds, so I would have to constantly remind myself of who everyone was. These issues wouldn't have come into play quite so much if I was holding the actual book in my hands.

Kubu is the Setswanan word for hippopotamus, and that nickname immediately endeared Kubu to me as the reader; the endearment only grew as Kubu's character was further developed throughout the novel. Kubu is cultured: he enjoys opera and sings along to it in his car. He is respectful of both his wife and his parents. And Kubu loves to eat - thus, hippopotamus! Kubu is constantly concerned about the next meal and where it is coming from. But Kubu is also an intelligent investigator.

As I mentioned before, the plot does not take place in strict chronological order. This adds to the mystery of the novel, constantly adding possibilities to the list of suspects. But "who done it" is not the only mystery in this novel..."who it was done to" is also a mystery throughout. Several individuals end up missing, so who exactly is the corpse from the watering hole? The complexity of this plot kept me glued to the stereo. This high-level puzzle was exciting to try to figure out. I would never classify this book as an "easy, quick read." Instead it challenged me as a reader to think above and beyond the norm. I devour books that challenge me!
Another challenge that the book brings forth is the contrasts that exists in Botswana - contrasts between the native people and the outsiders who are less concerned with the land than they are with the possibilities of personal wealth.

The setting in Africa is amazing. As I've mentioned before, I adore the series I read in places like New York City or Los Angeles, but books that are set in less-literary-traveled locals are especially fun for me as a reader. The inclusion of elements such at the Bushman witch doctor and diamond mining issues help to bring the setting to life.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough to anyone who enjoys crime fiction and mystery. It is a must read and will definitely be on my top ten of 2008!

I will be on the lookout for Michael Stanley's follow-up to this amazing book (The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu due out in June 2009 by the way). I look forward to the chance to share more time with Kubu and the Botswana Criminal Investigation Department.


Corey Wilde September 24, 2008 at 9:53 PM  

Jen, how would you compare this book to Alexander McCall Smith's series that takes place in Africa?

Jen September 25, 2008 at 7:29 AM  

Corey, I can't say. I've not read Alexancer McCall Smith. I'll add him to my TBR list. I'll start at the beginning of the series unless there is a better book to start with?

Corey Wilde September 25, 2008 at 11:55 AM  

No, no, don't add Smith to your list unless it really is something you want to read. I was just wondering about a comparison because of the locale. I'm not a big fan of Smith's, I go for the more hardboiled, noirish kind of crime fic. That's not to take away from Smith's writing, only that that style of books isn't to my taste. At least, not often.

Stanley October 4, 2008 at 3:02 AM  

If I may leave a comment here..
McCall Smith's books are wonderfully written and evoke the spirit and culture of Botswana very well indeed. But they are cozies. As McCall Smith is wont to say: "Nothing bad happens in my books because there is already too much bad in the world." A Carrion Death is much much darker than that. Michael Stanley

Jen October 4, 2008 at 12:44 PM  

Mr Trollip, your comments are ALWAYS welcome here. Thanks so much for stopping by. I'm honored!

Corey Wilde October 4, 2008 at 3:09 PM  

Dark is good, right, Mr. S? I've added your book to my always-lengthy list which, thanks to Jen and now you, just keeps getting longer. Oh, the hardships we readers endure!

Jen October 12, 2008 at 4:47 PM  

I have a post on behalf of a reader who sent me a nice e-mail:

Just a personal opinion in regard to the Audio Book recorded by Simon Prebble, yes the book is told out of strict time sequence but I found that it hung together very well and had no real difficulty following it. In my humble opinion the performance by Mr. Prebble brings this book to life so charmingly and mesmermizingly well that to miss it would have been a loss indeed.

A fan

Jen October 12, 2008 at 4:51 PM  

O.k., and my response is that "A Fan" is absolutely correct. Simon Prebble did an outstanding job with the audio book. My post didn't highlight that fact enough. Instead it highlighted the fact that I am an interactive reader, especially with books that make me think. I need the paper to make notes and look back and whatnot. But the audio is a great experience.

Thanks for pointing that out!

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