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.
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.
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.
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: