Sunday, April 28, 2013

"Deadly Harvest"

Michael Stanley is the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. Their mysteries are set in Botswana, each against a backdrop of a current issue in southern Africa. Their protagonist is David “Kubu” Bengu, assistant superintendent in the Botswana Criminal Investigation Department (CID). The third novel in the series, Death of the Mantis, was short listed for an Edgar and an Anthony, and won the Barry Award for best paperback original mystery of 2011.

The authors applied the Page 69 Test to Deadly Harvest, the fourth Detective Kubu mystery, and reported the following:
We were a little scared of page 69! What would it tell you about the book? Every page in a novel is important – or ought to be - but some are more gripping than others. Fortunately our fear was misplaced. Page 69 is a key scene and illustrates the personality of our new female character – Samantha Khama – the first woman detective in the Botswana Criminal Investigation Department.

Samantha is following the cold trail of Lesego, a young girl who has vanished, not as the victim of a rapist or serial killer, but kidnapped by a witch doctor for use in his black magic potions. Unfortunately, this is no pseudo-fantasy thriller. The belief in the power of witch doctors is prevalent in much of Africa. Most are herbalists with a smattering of magic thrown in, but a few, like Lesego’s abductor, deal in the blackest of magic requiring human body parts. It is claimed to bring them horrific powers including shape changing and invisibility.

The book builds from the effect these murders have on the families who often feel the police neglect them in favor of higher profile crimes. The police battle to solve these cases. There is no obvious link between the victim and the killer, fear of the witch doctors silences witnesses, and the police themselves are nervous of the witch doctors and their often powerful clients.

When she was a girl, Samantha had a close friend who was a victim. For her the issue is personal. And she, too, is dissatisfied with the attitude and response of her colleagues. She finds it hard to be taken seriously in the male-dominated enclave of the Criminal Investigation Department, and difficult to make progress with the cases - until she links up with Detective Kubu.

On page 69, she is interviewing the family of the missing girl: Lesego’s sister, Dikeledi, and her foster father and mother:
Each member of the family described what they recalled of that day, but no one remembered anything unusual.

Then Tole spoke about the following week.

“I asked everyone I met. But no one had seen anything. At least that’s what they said. I think they were scared a witch doctor was involved.”

“The people you talk to only want to drink at the bar,” Constance interjected.

Samantha ignored that and spoke to Tole. “Did anyone seem evasive? As though they were hiding something?” Tole shrugged and subsided.

Samantha turned to Dikeledi. “The police at the station said you were very concerned. Very loyal. That you came back several times. Did you find anything? Is there anything else you can remember that might help me?”

Dikeledi looked down at her feet. After a few moments she shook her head.

Constance stood up and put a pot of pap on the stove to cook. Samantha realized it was a signal for her to leave, but she had noticed Dikeledi’s hesitation.

“Would you show me the route Lesego would’ve taken to school, Dikeledi? Would you drive with me? It won’t take long, and I’ll bring you right back.” The girl hesitated again, but then nodded. She jumped up and left the room, reappearing a few minutes later with a jacket, despite the warm evening.

Samantha gave Tole her business card and thanked them all for their help. Constance just nodded and concentrated on the pap.
Dikeledi has something to show Samantha, something important, but she won’t do it in front of the others. The meeting starts Samantha on a course which brings her and Kubu close – uncomfortably close – to the ‘invisible’ witch doctor.
Learn more about the book and authors at Michael Stanley's website.

Read: Michael Stanley's top ten African crime novels.

--Marshal Zeringue