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A Death in the Family: A Detective Kubu Mystery


A Death in the Family: A Detective Kubu Mystery

The collaborative writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, professionally known as Michael Stanley, has established in a relatively short time one of the finest mystery series going. Their first novel, A CARRION DEATH, introduced David “Kubu” Bengu, an immediately iconic Assistant Superintendent with the Botswana police department, his extended family and his somewhat taciturn supervisor. Kubu (the nickname alludes to his size) is a man of great appetite, larger valor and superior intellect. A DEATH IN THE FAMILY, the fifth and latest novel in the series, is by far the most complex, one in which tragedy hits very close to home as part of a plot with international overtones.

The death in the family that is referenced in the title of this quietly compelling novel takes place very early on in the narrative. The victim is Wilmon Bengu, Kubu’s beloved father, who has been a subtle secondary character in the series. Those who have been following the Kubu canon from its beginning will feel the family’s sorrow over the loss, more so because Wilmon’s death is the result of a violent murder that took place just a few blocks from his home. Wilmon was afflicted with early stage dementia and was often confused; his grieving widow had little idea as to why he had gone out for a walk, other than for his vague statement that he was meeting someone. There is very little to go on aside from sketchy reports over an angry encounter that Wilmon had experienced with an unknown person a few weeks prior to his death and some calls that his phone records indicate he had received from a pay phone in the village where his estranged half-brother lives.

"Stanley and Kubu deserve much more critical and commercial attention than they have been receiving; hopefully this latest installment will rectify that shortcoming."

Kubu feels helpless. He is the best detective, by far, in the Botswana police, but he has been ordered by his boss, Jacob Mabaku, the Director of the Botswana Criminal Investigation Department, to back off. Mabaku’s stated concern is that any involvement on the part of Kubu may taint the investigation and subsequent arrest and trial of a suspect. Mabaku is correct, and Kubu, on several levels, understands this. Kubu also cannot help himself; he continuously interjects himself into the investigation, often going out on his own to gather information and evidence in direct opposition to Mabaku’s order. Mabaku tries several ways to keep Kubu out from underfoot. When a government official, the Assistant Head of the Department of Mines, is found dead as the apparent result of a suicide, Mabaku assigns Kubu to wrap up the investigation.

Kubu quickly gets into hot water of another sort when he determines that the death is not a suicide at all. He seems to be on the right track when an American representing the interest of a Texas mining corporation, and a friend of the victim, is attacked with almost fatal results. Tribal unrest over a proposal from a Chinese mining company also diverts Kubu’s attention when a meeting of elders and tribesmen leads to several deaths. When Kubu discerns a potential link between the mining dispute and his father’s murder, he digs even more deeply into the investigation. Mabaku reprimands Kubu several times to no avail, and finally sends him to a conference in New York to present a paper before the United Nations.

This is a wonderful interlude in the book, one in which Kubu is a very large fish out of water, experiencing a New York winter and the stark contrasts between his home village and one of the largest cities in the world. As it happens, however, Kubu also acquires an important clue to one of the cases that is troubling him at home, and it proves to provide the key to solving several puzzles, including his dear father’s murder, which, in the end, is itself tinged in irony.

If you are unfamiliar with this series, you can pick up and read A DEATH IN THE FAMILY without referencing the previous volumes. You will not be sorry. Stanley and Kubu deserve much more critical and commercial attention than they have been receiving; hopefully this latest installment will rectify that shortcoming. I also would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the authors and their publisher for the list of characters at the front of the book and the glossary at the end. Many thanks to them all!

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 13, 2015

A Death in the Family: A Detective Kubu Mystery
by Michael Stanley

  • Publication Date: October 27, 2015
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250070899
  • ISBN-13: 9781250070890