First line: "The desert glowed in the dawn light."
In the third installment of the Detective Kubu series, Assistant Superintendent David "Kubu" Bengu finds himself among the Bushman of the Kalahari. A ranger is found in a dry river bed with a massive skull injury. He's surrounded by three Bushman who are attempting to coax the ranger into drinking water. When the ranger dies on the way to the hospital and no evidence of any other humans can be found in the area, the three Bushman are arrested.
Meanwhile, in Gaborone, new father Kubu is unaware of the events. They come to his attention when his childhood friend Khumanego contacts him. The fact that Khumanego attended school with Kubu is a rarity. When Khumanego returned to the desert, he had difficulties fitting back in; ultimately he took a position advocating on behalf of the Bushman, so he is trying to save his fellow men from a crime he's certain they did not commit. But after Kubu works to free the Bushmen and similar crimes are committed, Kubu isn't so sure he agrees with Khumanego.
The Detective Kubu series has always been one in which the sense of place is as strong in illustrating who the characters are as the characters' actions. DEATH OF THE MANTIS is no exception. The relationship between the desert and its inhabitants is mysteriously beautiful even though it is also a volatile relationship. The life of the Bushman is a constant struggle; the Michael Stanley writing duo depict both the desert and the struggles in all their array of colors bringing the locales to life for all the readers who have never seen anything beyond a magazine photo.
DEATH OF THE MANTIS is also profoundly rich in relationships. The bond between Kubu and his wife, Joy, has consistently added depth to the series. In this book, however, that bond takes on a new dimension when their family dynamics change with the addition of the baby, Tumi.
And Kubu's relationships with his parents and friends have also added to the breadth of the novels. In DEATH OF THE MANTIS his friendship with Khumanego is challenged. Khumanego is the one who taught Kubu to see beyond the obvious; his affection is important to Kubu so damage of any kind to the friendship changes Kubu.
But probably the strongest influences on this Detective Kubu novel come from the relationships between the factions and the relationships between man (specifically the Bushman) and nature. The echos I heard as an American reader were those of the Native Americans, which lead me to believe this is a universal scenario. One that people around the world can relate to:
"We have to fight to keep the government from taking our culture, from making us empty of who we are. Making us nothing."
The power of these words resonate throughout DEATH OF THE MANTIS. The novel still includes humorous situations and exchanges like the two before it. The irony of Kubu's inability to see obvious things, like his wife's exhaustion from caring for their baby, when he never misses the concealed clues is always endearing. And the mystery is challenging and entertaining. But the DEATH OF THE MANTIS goes beyond the ordinary and presents questions of humanity, some of which have no easy answer.
DEATH OF THE MANTIS is an engaging, thrilling mystery with an exotic backdrop. It's not one readers will easily put down. But it also goes beyond; it's a challenging statement of politics and humanity, forcing readers to step out of what's comfortable and experience the extraordinary unknown.
DEATH OF THE MANTIS releases today from Harper Paperbacks as a Trade Paperback original (ISBN: 978-006200037). As an aside, the first two books of this series are available on audiobook, narrated by Simon Prebble. I haven't been able to find any information on whether DEATH OF THE MANTIS will be available on audio, but I highly recommend experiencing at least one of these books in audio to hear the sound of the language, most especially if you have had no experience with it before.
My review is part of the DEATH OF THE MANTIS blog tour with TLC Blog Tours. And I'm thrilled that I am able to kick off this tour. This has really been a series I've tried to be an evangelist for, so I'm happy to be able to sing the praises of Michael Stanley's work once again. At the TLC site, you can find links to additional reviews that will post through the next month.
And my final unrelated comment is to keep an eye on the blog after Bouchercon. I believe I'm going to be able to offer some lucky readers copies of the books in the Detective Kubu series, including DEATH OF THE MANTIS. Happy Reading!