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Stanley, Michael - 'Deadly Harvest'
Trade Paperback: 320 pages (May 2013) Publisher: Harper Paperbacks ISBN: 0062221523

This is the fourth book featuring the Botswanan Detective, assistant superintendent David 'Kubu' Bengu and written by the team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. A book with many threads and backstories, the main theme is that of 'muti', usually a form of traditional medicine in Southern Africa. However, witch doctors have also been known to murder people and use their body parts to make muti, which is then supposed to transfer great power to those who take it. But various other issues facing Southern Africa are brought into the mix, including the problems that Aids brings, orphaning young children, many of whom are HIV positive themselves, and leaving them with uncertain futures, a problem that is brought right into the heart of Kubu's own family.

The story begins with the kidnapping of a young girl, Lesogo Betse, on her way home from school. A car pulls up alongside her, and someone she knows asks if he can give her a lift home. She accepts, but the car drives on past her house and she never returns home. Could it be that a witch doctor has taken her for muti? Four months after her disappearance, with little action by the police to find her, a new character, the first woman detective in the team, Detective Khama, tells Kubu that she wants to pursue the investigation into her disappearance in what is now a 'cold case'. As she argues her intent to do so, it becomes clear that she feels keenly the difficulty of being the first and only female detective in an all male team, and it falls to Kubu to persuade her that he is sympathetic to women, and will support her, even though he thinks this is a difficult first investigation to tackle.

Meanwhile Kubu is called in to investigate threats against a politician, Marumo, after the head of a dog was found on his front doorstep one morning, with the words “your next” written in blood. Marumo has recently defected from the ruling Botswana Democratic Party to start his own Party, the Freedom Party, and posters of Marumo advertising his new Party are plastered up all round the city. Was this a politically motivated attack?

Then another child, Tombi, goes missing, again accepting a lift from someone she seems to know. But this time, her father, Witness Maleng, a widower (his wife having died from Aids), is determined to find who has taken Tombi, organising a search for her with all his friends, and eventually consulting a witch doctor to find out what might have happened to her. She advises him to seek a man who "was nothing and is now everything...was weak and is now powerful". A man who has taken muti made from his daughter's body parts? Witness decides that this man is Marumo, having seen him earlier with a young girl while searching for Tombi. He decides to take the law into his own hands and deal with Marumo himself.

It's when Marumo is found dead, and Kubu is called in to handle the investigation that the two stories, that of the disappearance of young girls for muti and the murder of Marumo start to merge. The use of muti even touches the highest level of the police.

DEADLY HARVEST was a fascinating read. Not only does it bring the problems and issues facing Southern Africa to the fore, but it very skilfully combines many different characters and sub-plots into a convincing whole. Even something as apparently trivial as Kubu's attendance at a funeral eventually becomes important in a key plot development later on in the novel. There is some great interplay between Kubu and his new female detective Khama, who turns out to be an extremely skilful and tenacious detective. Beyond the main detective story, the continuing story of Kubu's home life, how Aids touches his own life as his family takes in an orphaned HIV positive girl, and the sad decline of his father into dementia, contribute to a satisfying whole. This is the best book in the series so far, and I can't wait for the next instalment.

Michelle Peckham, England
May 2013

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last updated 12/05/2013 08:45