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Stanley, Michael - 'Death of the Mantis'
Paperback: 416 pages (Jan. 2012) Publisher: Headline ISBN: 0755381165

DEATH OF THE MANTIS is the third book from the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, featuring Detective Kubu. It is set in Botswana and Kubu is the nickname for Detective David Bengu, a rather large man, called Kubu (hippopotamus) in reference to his appearance. The story in this book revolves around the Bushmen people that live in the Kalahari desert. It begins with a prologue set sixty years ago in which a bushman boy called Gibiwasi and his father approach a set of hills (koppies) in the Kalahari desert. A set of remarkable caves is hidden in the hills, which contain many beautiful ancient cave paintings, and this sacred spot is known as 'The Place'. Here the son and his father fast, then take some kind of hallucinogen, and finally Gibiwasi meets the ancestors, spirits of the dead that now inhabit the sky. The father tells him that the Place is secret, and not to tell anyone about it, except his own eldest son when the time comes. And so, the scene is set, as we can guess that the book will feature more about the bushmen and the sacred Place.

Sixty years on, and a man who works in the Transfrontier park called Monzo is found dead surrounded by three bushmen. They say that they have just come across him, and were trying to revive him, but the local police detective Lerako doesn't believe them, and arrests them for murder. The police can't find any other tracks leading to the scene other than those of the bushmen and Lerako's mistrust of these strange people helps to fuel his suspicions. But why would the bushmen stay next to a body after killing him? Detective Kubu, who works in the capital of Botswana, Gabarone, is then is contacted by an old school-friend Khumanego, a bushman youth, who now works as an advocate for the rights of the bushmen to keep their traditional ways, and land. He wants Kubu to investigate Monzo's death, as he thinks the bushmen are innocent. But Kubu's boss Mabuku refuses to let him look into the case. He then has to change his mind when a reporter gets hold of the story, and threatens to write a story about the bad treatment of the bushmen. Somewhat (but not completely) reluctantly, Kubu has to leave his wife Joy, who is struggling with her new baby girl Tumi, and head off into the desert to discover if the bushmen are guilty or not. Once there, he finds evidence that weakens the case against the bushmen, and Lerako has to let them go. But then another man is found murdered in the bush. Once more, Kubu has to leave his family and go back into the desert to try to find out what's happening.

The book is well plotted, and contains an interesting mix of a straightforward detective tale, with the comedic tales of Kubu's domestic life, in which he is trying to lose weight yet is obsessed by food, and having to adjust to life with a young baby, and a wife who is finding it hard to cope. Sprinkled in here and there is some interesting insight into the lives of the Kalahari bushmen, and the extreme climate of the Kalahari desert itself. It cleverly leaves the reader in suspense, hoping that the bushmen are not involved despite the damning evidence that apparently implicates them, yet leaving very few clues as to who the perpetrator or perpetrators really are. All this eventually leads to a dramatic ending, where Kubu is betrayed and his life put in great danger. DEATH OF THE MANTIS is a "no.1 detective man's agency" with a slightly harder edge, which was a very entertaining read.

Michelle Peckham, England
January 2012

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last updated 22/01/2012 11:51