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A carrion death by Michael Stanley

A carrion death (original 2008; edition 2008)

by Michael Stanley

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2812240,152 (3.76)21
Title:A carrion death
Authors:Michael Stanley
Info:New York : HarperCollins, c2008.
Collections:Read but unowned

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A Carrion Death by Michael Stanley (2008)


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Audiobook performed Simon Prebble

Kalahari game rangers spot circling vultures, and always on the lookout for poaching activity they go to investigate. They find a human corpse, mostly eaten by hyenas, the remains scattered in the area. There are several unusual things about this body – most poachers are black, and this person was white; the deceased was also naked; and his/her teeth had all been knocked out and one forearm was missing. There have been no reports of any missing tourists or residents. Detective David “Kubu” Bengu of the Botswana CID is called in to investigate. He soon uncovers clues and additional crimes which all revolve around the powerful Botswana Cattle and Mining Company and its leaders.

This is a wonderful debut mystery with a great central character. Kubu got his nickname at school because of his size – Kubu is the Setswana word for hippopotamus. Like his namesake he is a seemingly slow and docile beast, but the detective is far from lumbering in his investigation. He combines intelligence, excellent education and sound police procedures with tenacity and a keen intuition to ferret out the truth. The author humanizes Kubu by his love of opera, good wine and his wife, Joy. I can just picture him driving across the desert landscape singing arias.

The plot is fast paced and complicated. This is a much darker and more dangerous Botswana than that portrayed in Alexander McCall Smith’s popular No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. There are plenty of suspects and several plot twists that I did not see coming. The book is divided into parts, and the first four alternate in time frame – March, January, March, January-February – before returning to the March “present” and continuing in a fairly accurate chronological sequence. This was a little confusing at first, especially since I was listening to the audiobook, but a quick check of the text helped me put things in the right order.

Simon Prebble is marvelous performing the audio book. His pacing is good and his acting brings the novel to life. There are a number of characters of different nationalities and he capably handled all the various accents. In fact his use of voices gave me a huge clue in determining the culprit; one character’s talent for mimicry would not be as evident on the page as it was on the audio.

I’ll definitely keep reading this series.

( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 13, 2016 |
Audible. Couldn't resist another detective from Botswana. Well read. A story that kept me guessing. Would read another story about this detective.
  idiotgirl | Dec 26, 2015 |
I read elsewhere that the author is really the joint venture of two different people, and this explained my sense of distinctness of two separate plot lines, one related to westerners and their obsession with diamonds and money, the other a much more African viewpoint. Nevertheless, the book works well and was a very enjoyable listen, well read.

Detective Kubu (Swahili dialect for hippopotamus, his nickname) is a sort of fat Columbo. He's extremely likable, the assistant superintendent of police in Gaborone, sings opera in his car, loves his wife (the scenes where he and Joy visit his relatives is very entertaining in its apparently authentic formalistic dialogue between father and son,) and is very wily and smart. I love characters who appear somewhat bumbling or unattractive on the surface, but who have a core of competence and character. Kubu fits that bill nicely. His nickname is appropriate not only for his appearance but also because the hippopotamus is one of the most feared animals in Africa, extremely dangerous when challenged.

Recounting the plot would be spoiling and redundant. Suffice it to say the contrast between a very professional African society with the European BCMC diamond owners is instructive. The ending becomes a bit chaotic as things begin to unravel for the bad guys/gals. Those looking for a pure version of one of those genres will be disappointed, but I did not find the mixture distracting.

It's impossible not to think of Alexander Smith's Ladies Detective Agency series while reading this, but they are similar only in geography. Both authors clearly love Africa in general; and Botswana in particular.

Interview with the authors at http://www.onceuponacrimebooks.com/stanley.html ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
The first book in a series featuring Assistant Superintendent David "Kubu" Bengu of the Botswana police. Kubu, while outwardly docile and easygoing, is persistent almost to the point of obsession when it comes to solving a case. When an unidentified murder victim is found being devoured by a hyena on a game reserve in Kalahari, Kubu is called in to solve the mystery of who the victim was and why he was dumped out in the wilds.

The book touches on a variety of subjects including political corruption, greed, the power of wealth in a poor country, and the enduring nature of superstitious beliefs. The Botswana locale and characters greatly elevate what would otherwise be a relatively bland, low-key novel. Unfortunately I found the final solution to be more than a little farfetched and not terribly original.

With the somewhat proper structure of the dialogue and the very mannered, "traditional" behavior of many of the characters there is a passing resemblance to the classic English country house mysteries (which actually makes sense as Botswana has a strong historical connection to the UK). Add the corpulent main character, Kubu Bengu, and the long passages on food and beverage description and there is also a Nero Wolfe quality (probably a better comparison since both Nero Wolfe and Kubu Bengu would seem to blend genres).

If you enjoy the classic style mystery - Agatha Christie, Rex Stout - then you'll likely enjoy this novel. If you like action and lots of it then I wouldn't recommend it.

There is some violence and descriptive passages dealing with dead bodies and crime scenes that might not be appropriate for extremely sensitive readers. There is very little sexual content or adult language. ( )
  Mike-L | Apr 14, 2013 |
A human body that has been picked over by hyenas is found near a resort in a remote part of Botswana. There are few clues to the person’s identity other than it’s a white person. Assistant Superintendent David ‘Kubu’ Bengu needs to use all his ingenuity to find out who the person is and how they ended up in such a predicament. His investigations take him in many directions including to the most influential company in the country which incorporates diamond mines among its many interests.

The character of Kubu is one the outstanding features of this novel. He is a happily married, opera-loving, overweight chap whose childhood nickname of Kubu (meaning hippo) has stuck through to his adulthood. He is also a tenacious and clever detective who is willing to access help from whatever source he can find it. Although he does have a couple of odd quirks that crime writers love to give their protagonists (singing opera while driving across the country for example), Kubu is still a very natural and realistic character. He gets on well with his boss (who is neither a moron nor a monster) and even hosts a dinner party with his wife Joy for family and friends. Such things are perfectly normal in real life but stood out for me here as being the kind of thing you don’t see a lot of in crime fiction.

Given that I primarily read A Carrion Death as part of my fulfillment for the 2010 Global Challenge I was pleased it evoked such a sense of its location. The vast distances that Kubu has to travel in order to carry out his investigations and the remote desert setting for several key events acted together to give a strong sense of the relatively sparsely populated and land-locked country. Although in some ways it is quite different to the country depicted in Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series the importance given to all family relationships is a common trait between the two Botswanas. Here the family element is demonstrated repeatedly, most memorably for me when Kubu travels to South Africa and observes many beggars which he says would never happen in his country as people would be too ashamed to let even distant relations resort to such measures.

The book did suffer a little from ‘first book syndrome’ where every idea the authors had seemed to be thrown into the mix with the consequence that some of the threads were not terribly well thought through or relevant (the witchdoctor for example really added neither local flavour nor plot development). Tighter editing of these portions and the several repetitions of ‘the case to date’ segments might have made a dent in the book’s excessive length which would, in my humble opinion, have made it a better product. However the complex story does unfold well, including the time jumps in the first third of the novel, and the main thread is resolved in a manner in keeping with the rest of the story which is becoming something of a rarity these days.

Michael Stanley is a pseudonym for two authors, Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, but however they apportion the writing tasks their collaboration appeared seamless to me. A Carrion Death is a thoroughly enjoyable romp of a tale and you’d be hard pressed not warm to the character of Kubu. I’m certainly looking forward to reading the second novel in the series soon. ( )
  bsquaredinoz | Mar 31, 2013 |
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Michael Stanleyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Prebble, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This is for Annette and Jeannine
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The hyena moved off when the men shouted.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061252409, Hardcover)

Smashed skull, snapped ribs, and a cloying smell of carrion. Leave the body for the hyenas to devour—no body, no case.

But Kalahari game rangers stumble on the human corpse mid-meal. The murder wasn't perfect after all. Enter Detective David "Kubu" Bengu of the Botswana Criminal Investigation Department, an investigator whose personality and physique match his moniker, the Setswana word for hippopotamus—which is a seemingly docile beast, but one of the deadliest, and most persistent, on the continent.

Beneath a mountain of lies and superstitions, Kubu uncovers a chain of crimes leading to the most powerful figures in the country—cold-bloodedly efficient and frighteningly influential enemies who can make anyone who gets in their way disappear.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:49 -0400)

In the aftermath of the murder of an anonymous victim, assistant superintendent David Bengu begins his career on Botswana, where his convivial passions and determined methods earn him a local nickname that likens him to a hippopotamus.

(summary from another edition)

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