It is hard to believe that DEADLY HARVEST is the fourth Detective Kubu mystery by Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, the duo writing collaboratively under the name “Michael Stanley.”
David “Kubu” Bengu, a Botswana detective, is by turns immensely likable and likably immense, capable of focusing on the clues in front of him as he marks time for lunch (or dinner, or breakfast) without losing track of either. Even more remarkably, he is able to balance his professional and culinary obligations with his familial ones, serving up love and respect to his wife and aging parents without missing a beat. I have written elsewhere --- and will state again --- that he is the type of person any of us would be the better for having known, let alone having for a friend. While featuring such a fully realized character might be enough in a work of detective fiction, Stanley has presented a tantalizing and beguiling mystery. This is especially true of DEADLY HARVEST, which is the best Kubu novel to date.
"Team Stanley knows its territory very well (both gentlemen resided in Africa for many years), so their plotting and characters are shot through with a canny understanding of the politics and culture unique to the setting."
One becomes so swept up by the primary and supporting characters in the series that it is almost easy to overlook the exotic settings in which they take place. The traditional and the modern mix uneasily here and, in the case of DEADLY HARVEST, collide with catastrophic results. The book opens with the abduction of an adolescent girl from a rural village. While it is clear to the reader that she is taken, the police are reluctant to treat the case as anything other than that of another runaway. As it turns out, there have been other occurrences as well. Detective Samantha Khama, the newest member of the Botswana police force, is incensed with the cavalier attitude with which the reports of the missing girls are given and vows to investigate the disappearances herself. Kubu, being a senior detective, is assigned to give her some guidance, and finds himself walking a thin line as he attempts to assist Khama in her investigation while keeping her from stepping on the toes of her fellow officers.
Meanwhile, the father of one of the missing girls believes that a populist political candidate is responsible for his daughter’s absence and murders the official following his greatest political victory. Kubu is placed in charge of the investigation, and finds that his case and Khama’s slowly begin to intersect. The two investigators make for an interesting study in contrast, given Kubu’s slow and deliberate but nonetheless methodical pace, and Khama’s driving, energetic personality. They eventually get to the same place, though the results are, at least in part, bittersweet.
DEADLY HARVEST is somewhat darker in tone than Stanley’s previous works, though that is certainly understandable given the subject matter. Team Stanley knows its territory very well (both gentlemen resided in Africa for many years), so their plotting and characters are shot through with a canny understanding of the politics and culture unique to the setting. And while the plot possesses a quiet strength, the primary force of the book is Kubu, who is as unique and interesting a protagonist as one is likely to find in contemporary detective fiction.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 14, 2013