Author: Michael Stanley

Publisher: HarperCollins

ISBN: 978-0-06-125240-2

I have been thinking about the problems I had with A Carrion Death by Michael Sears and Stanley Raynes, writing under the name "Michael Stanley." If you have not read this mystery and think you might, stop reading this right now because it is going to be filled with spoilers. Okay? Stop.

A Carrion Death is set in Botswana and introduces a Gaborone police detective, Assistant Superintendent David Bengu who is large enough and heavy enough to have the nickname Kubu, which means "rhinoceros." The mystery begins when a park ranger and an anthropologist find the remains of a body the hyenas have feasted on. There's enough left to know it was a white male. A tourist who took a wrong turn? Not likely. All the teeth had been knocked out of the skull and one of the arms was missing. So we know the man was murdered and his body dumped. But no white man has been reported missing.

Before the book ends, the bodies pile up: a geologist who works at a diamond mine and suspects smuggling, another geologist from the mine, a blackmailer, the hitman who killed the blackmailer, the heir to the mine, and maybe more (I didn't keep track). There is sculduggery in high places: the mysterious death years before of the man who founded the mining company, video recordings of important people doing naughty things with women not their wives, a letter that seems to suggest an involvement with "blood diamonds," and a plot so complex that when I closed the book could not make sense of all the twists and turns.

There are many things to like about A Carrion Death. Kubu is an appealing character, a responsible husband and devoted son (there's a scene with Kubu, his wife, and his parents). Sears and Raynes obviously love Botswana and dislike what development does to it: "Despite its relatively small size and attempts to avoid excessive environment damage, the Maboane diamond mine complex interrupted the arid vista like a scar. It was an open-pit mine that corkscrewed down, following the kimberlite host rock into the depths. Nearby the crushing, washing, and sorting plant stood waiting . . . " Their scenes involving corporate types in executive offices ring true. 

The story hangs on the villain's ability to imitate voices and accents on the phone so well that the listener does not realize he's not talking to, for example, a school chum, someone he knew well enough to be nicknamed "rhinoceros" by him. A separate killer is willing to do the villain's dirty work—and the work is truly dirty—without every having met the person giving the orders over the phone. At one point the villain has to dispose of an inconvenient confederate who is in a luxury hotel in Portugal. When he opens his door to an attractive (female) stranger, he's set upon and his throat slit. Problem solved for the villain, but some readers will wonder how the mechanics of such an assassination can be set up, especially since the villain is just a garden-variety sociopath, not a head of state who can use the secret service. Nor is it clear what the villain gains from all the slaughter. Finally, one of the henchmen manages to escape which may be realistic—or he's being saved for a future book—but given the blood he'd spilled I found his escape unsatisfactory. 

A Carrion Death is the first of seven Detective Kubu mysteries. Readers who would like a version of Botswana different from Alexander McCall Smith's might want to start with one of the later books. On the other hand, just because I found the plot of A Carrion Death overly complicated and the villain preposterous does not mean everyone will find them so. Or they will enjoy the book anyway. That there are six more Kubu mysteries tells me that he has some devoted followers. You might try one of them.