Deadly Harvest Blog Tour – Why Botswana?

I am delighted to host a guest post by the writing team that is Michael Stanley to kick off the blog tour for Deadly Harvest. I have been reading the novel and found Detective “Kubu” to be a very endearing lead character.

Michael Stanley is the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, both South Africans by birth. Both have been professors and have worked in business, Michael in South Africa and Stanley in the USA.  Their novels – set in Botswana, featuring Assistant Superintendent David “Kubu” Bengu – are A Carrion Death, A Deadly Trade, Barry Award-winning Death of the Mantis, Deadly Harvest, and A Death in the Family.

A question we’re often asked is why we choose to set our novels in Botswana.  Doesn’t South Africa have enough opportunities for murder mysteries with one of the highest murder rates in the world?  Certainly South Africa is fertile ground for the crime fiction writer, and it comes with a fertile context – a new country struggling to reinvent itself in the aftermath of apartheid.  Indeed, there are several excellent crime writers in South Africa taking advantage of that context – for example Deon Meyer with his detective Benny Griessel series.  However, that rich environment is also restrictive.  The South African police force battles with affirmative action, corruption, and distrust from both the black population (inherited from the previous regime) and the white population (who often resent the changes).  Other issues important in the subcontinent somehow seem out of place in the South African context.

Beyond that, Botswana is a wonderful country and one in which we have spent time, both as visitors and professionally.  It has varied landscape ranging from the arid Kalahari to the magnificent wildlife areas of the north, and amazing Okavango delta.  The people are delightful, combining a respect for tradition with a forward-looking policy and stable government, which is among the least corrupt in Africa.  The vast diamond wealth generated mainly by the De Beers discoveries at Orapa and Jwaneng has mainly gone to building schools and other infrastructure instead of into politicians’ pockets.

Too good to be true?  Well, nothing is perfect.  The country is landlocked, surrounded by South Africa to the south and east, Namibia to the west, and Zambia and Zimbabwe to the north.  Their problems spill over, Botswana has many of its own, and the diamonds are not without their own issues.

Bushman woman Photo Stan Trollip

Our books explore themes in the regional context not constrained by the legacy of apartheid.  The first book – A Carrion Death – revolves around blood diamonds and the lengths to which people will go to get their hands on the rich, natural resources of the region.  The second – A Deadly Trade – explores the fallout of the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe civil war on the region.  The backstory of the third book – Death of the Mantis – is the plight of the Bushman peoples of the Kalahari and their struggle to maintain at least some aspects of their culture as they are forced into the modern world.  A Death in the Family – which will be published by Orenda Books in July, looks at the impact of the Chinese in southern Africa.  They have been called the new colonialists of Africa, buying up land and resources with little regard for the locals or the environment.

These are all issues of significant importance to the region, but, of course, our books are fiction and driven by the characters and the plot.  Having these different stage settings allows us to have new types of stories and even different types of crime.

Deadly Harvest

In our current book – Deadly Harvest – released by Orenda Books this month, that crime is murder to obtain human body parts for magic potions, often called muti.  Unfortunately, far from being a fictional invention, it’s a growing horror.  Despite the region’s move into the modern world, the old beliefs and old fears are ingrained, and our novel is based on an actual case that was never solved – the 1994 murder of schoolgirl Segametsi Mogomotse.

witch doctor courtesy of Alex Zaloumis

Shangaan fetishes Couresty of Alex Zaloumis

Kubu faces a difficult time unmasking the supposedly invisible witch doctor behind the murders.  Similarly to serial killers, the murderers are not connected to their victims so there’s no trail.  Worse, there is a pervasive fear of the power of black magic and everyone -including many of the police – is too scared of the witch doctors to get involved.  Finally, the people who use these witch doctors are rich and powerful.  We add a new character – supposedly the CID’s first woman detective and school friend of Segametsi Mogomotse – to help Kubu.  He needs it!

So, perhaps the answer to the question of why we set our books in Botswana is why not?

Follow the Deadly Harvest blog tour using the calendar below:

Deadly Harvest Blog tour


Epiphany Jones by Michael Grothaus

Epiphany JonesWhen a novel takes you to the darker places of the world it is important that the reader can trust the author. Epiphany Jones takes us to perhaps the darkest places of them all and it is a great testimony to both the skill and the emotional intelligence of Michael Grothaus that he is able to do this in a way that honours the victims and educates the reader whilst delivering a great story. Somehow he approaches his subject with exactly the right tone so that you can be confronted by it but also cope with it within a disturbing but also deeply moving narrative.

Sex trafficking is a very real problem in our world but it is a difficult subject to read about. According to Stop the Traffik 1.2 million children are trafficked each year and human trafficking (of which sex trafficking is the largest contributor) is the second largest source of illegal income worldwide, exceeded only by drugs.

Epiphany Jones is a deeply damaged person who has suffered greatly over a sustained period at the hands of brutally evil men. Grothaus does not shy away from that reality, he does not try to dress up the horrors that are happening to make the reader’s journey more comfortable, nor does he allow his protagonist a superhuman ability to overcome that damage. Instead he shows us the abuse that she has suffered and the damage that it has created and lets us absorb and consider it.

Before Epiphany storms into his life with all of the chaos and destruction of a tornado, we meet Jerry Dresden. He’s a screwed up guy and not everyone is going to immediately warm to him with his psychotic hallucinations and his porn addiction, but stick with him, he’s worth it. The novel opens with the line “Tonight I’m having sex with Audrey Hepburn.” and on first reading that may offend, shock or simply humour you, but by the end it will have swollen with an emotional power that should probably haunt you.

Jerry is accused of stealing a famous Van Gogh from the museum he works at and killing a colleague in the process. The evidence looks convincing and he is forced underground where alongside his figments (hallucinations who have become both friends and tormentors) he becomes trapped in a relationship with a woman on a mission that the voices in her head tell her is from God. As Jerry narrates his story we see Epiphany Jones through his eyes and like him we sway between sympathy and judgment the more we learn about them both.

They set out to confront their pasts and to find a surprising shared hope for the future on a trail that uncovers the full cycle of the trafficking system. Those out purely for personal profit, those tied into an abusive system they support and cannot escape, those whose entire lives have been forged in the fires of other people’s depravity and those at the end of the line who create the whole sickening industry

This is not by any means an easy read but it is a powerful and affecting one. Grothaus acknowledges that you cannot just flick a switch and wash away the effects of sustained abuse and we have to deal with that as a society that tends to deify celebrity and wealth but struggles to meet victims in the reality of their situations. He will get inside you and mess with your comfortable preconceptions and as a journalist who spent years investigating sex trafficking in Hollywood he is well qualified to do so. It is an emotionally difficult experience but journeys of discovery are never easy and this is one that collectively we will surely benefit from taking.

The Evolution of Fear by Paul E Hardisty

Evolution-of-FearIt can be difficult going about a review of a second novel in a series. What are you going to say about the second instalment that you didn’t say about the first? Have you already used up all of the best comparisons and contrasts and so you can’t help repeating yourself? Given that we are talking here about a thriller you begin to wonder did you use “adrenalin rush” or “rollercoaster” for book one.

All of those concerns lie before me as I try to put together a fair and yet fresh review of The Evolution of Fear by Paul Hardisty. Last year I reviewed his first novel The Abrupt Physics of Dying and told you that in Clay Straker he had given us a leading man who could one day compare with Bond and Bourne. What can I tell you now, other than that day has already come.

I hardly want to say anymore. You don’t want me giving away any of the intricacies of the plot but I can tell you that we quickly sail from Cornwall to Turkey and Cyprus. We are again faced with not only brutal international criminals but also environmental disaster and Clay Straker is again taken to the very limits of human endurance as he tries desperately to maintain his own sanity and the safety of those he loves.

The action starts straight away with Straker in hiding with a price on his head. Discovered and possibly betrayed he is forced to move and try to grab the initiative. He seeks out Rania fearful that he has made her a target, with the intention of going into hiding together, but neither of them can realistically run away from a matter of conscience and always in the background is Clay’s torment from the sins of his past.

From the pages of this novel comes a high powered adrenalin shot that has you diving into an adventure fraught with danger. Occasionally you will come up for air, to remind yourself that this is not happening to you but to characters on a page, but those characters will so grab your attention and your concern that they will come alive as you cling onto them for a ride into a murky world of politics, capitalism and crime.

This is dynamite thriller writing and Clay Straker is an affecting and memorable lead character and it is the drawing of the characters that is crucial to elevate Hardisty’s work from set piece action to something you genuinely care about. I have said previously that Straker was made for the big screen but perhaps there is an example in Jason Bourne of how the transference from novel to movie can diminish that depth of involvement that the original trilogy possessed but which the films could not capture.

Hardisty is already an award winner and surely more recognition will follow as he proves now that he is not a one hit wonder but can deliver some longevity. More than awards though his writing deserves to be read and enjoyed, thriller fans should be waiting excitedly for every new release knowing that with Hardisty on the spine they are guaranteed something special. I would happily position him as a Ludlum for a new time, he provides us with classic thrills in an up to date and relevant context. He should be on the best seller lists and thriller fans should be queuing up to put him there.