A Death in the Family, by Michael Stanley.
Plot: An old man with early-stage dementia is fatally stabbed in the street at night. The victim was the father of the Assistant Superintendent in the Botswana CID. Was the crime some form of revenge against the son? Events – including another murder and a failed attempt at a third – quickly disprove that theory. But the crimes are linked. A tale of multi-national corporate greed and government corruption emerges.
Where and when: The plot revolves around the historic town of Shoshong and its (fictional) Chinese-owned uranium mine. The setting is modern day.
The detectives: David ‘Kubu’ (Hippo) Bengu, Assistant Superintendent in the Botswana CID; Jacob Mabaku, his boss; Edison Banda and Samantha Khama, detectives in the CID.
Sense of Place: The book was praised for this by the much-respected (by me at least) Crime Fiction Lover website, but it is actually quite sparing in its description of the towns and countryside. It does score strongly on the cultural landscape of Botswana. At one point, Kubu reflects on how music is at the core of life; “We sing when a baby is born, we sing at birthdays and weddings, we sing at work and we sing when people die.” The author (actually a writing team of two South Africans, Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip) returns to the theme at the funeral of Kubu’s father: The coffin is opened the night before the funeral, and crowds of mourners pray and sing until dawn. When the service is over, the crowd moves to the grave in a long procession, and the air is filled with song and ululations.
And I now know that a traditional funeral meal in Botswana will include a smooth maize meal porridge (sap), a fatty boiled meat dish (seswan) and dried corn kernels (samp); possibly washed down with Shake Shake beer, so named because you have to shake the carton to mix the ingredients before you can drink it.
But the book also examines darker themes – the clash of traditional and modern, the disconnection between village elders and disaffected young men, and the tension over the growing numbers of Chinese, who are investing heavily in the country but are distrusted over their motives.
There is also an undertow of suspicion that, below the benign family image of Botswana, is a disturbing acceptance of wife beating.
Worth reading? Yes. I use my e-reader on this project, for convenience in obtaining and storing books, and add the paper version when I discover a title or series I want to collect. This is the fifth in the Kubu Bengu series: I will be adding them all to my bookshelf.
World Crime Atlas is my retirement project to read a crime novel set in each of the countries in The Times Atlas of the World. I am particularly interested in the sense of place created by the author.