Last month I found myself engrossed in an article about an albino who was forced to flee his home in Cameroon because his albinism made him a target – a target for those who believe they have special powers. It means that across Africa, in countries like Cameroon, Tanzania, Malawi and others, Albinos are killed and mutilated for the parts of their body. It’s an eye-opening article, not least because, from my sheltered seat and lifestyle, I found it so shocking to believe that, in other parts of the world, people still genuinely believe in the power of the Witch Doctors and that people run the risk of being abducted and killed for muti.
Then Karen at Orenda Books sent me a new novel to read- Deadly Harvest by Michael Stanley. Set in Botwsana, it tackles just that subject.
A young girl on her way home gets into a car with a mysterious man – she’s never seen again. Months later Samantha Khama – a new recruit to Botwsana’s Criminal Investigation Department – picks up the ‘cold case’, suspecting the girl was killed for muti. Then another girl disappears in similar circumstances. Witness, her devastated father, is just getting over the loss of his wife and the loss of his daughter, too, proves too much and pushes him down a dark path in search for revenge – it’s a path that leads him to accidentally and unknowingly blowing open a much larger case which brings corruption, politics and the plight of AIDS into the novel’s scope . When the investigation gets personal, Samantha enlists opera-loving wine connoisseur Assistant Superintendent David ‘Kubu’ Bengu to help her dig into the past. As they begin to discover a pattern to the disappearances, there is another victim – an albino man – and Kubu and Samantha are thrust into a harrowing race to uncover the true identity of the man behind the killings and bring the murders to an end.
Don’t let me mislead – I’m eager to point out here that muti in itself is not such an evil thing. It, more often than not, is nothing more than traditional herbal medicines (and, occasionally, the odd animal product) which is likely no more offensive than something you might pick up in Holland & Barrett (perhaps even less so). Sometimes though, it does get darker and can contain human elements. That darkness runs through Deadly Harvest like a potent undercurrent. Botswana is a modern country yet here amongst those living their daily lives are many who are still in thrall to Witch Doctors, the old ways and superstition – serving as a shackle as the country tries to progress and issuing a genuine, palpable threat to so many. Without repeating myself, it’s hard to conceive of such a world from the sheltered seat of the reader yet Deadly Harvest does a great job of bringing that terror, that monster in the dark, to life. Make sure your door is locked before reading this one at night.
It is a fantastic book. That it’s rooted in a disturbing reality makes it all the more powerful and important. Events unfold at a relatively leisurely pace but are interspersed with moments of palpable tension and a sense of foreboding as the Witch Doctor tightens his grip on those in his thrall as the police begin closing in. There’s plenty of humour in here too and events in Kubu’s own family life make for a great read.
I like Detective Kubu (not just because there’s usually a pack of cookies in my desk too, which reminds me….) – he’s a genuinely warm character with a stable, loving family life that’s almost an oddity in the world of crime novels. It’s nice to see a character who is fighting a battle with his waist line rather than one with alcohol / self-destructive habits and makes him an immediately more relatable character and one I very look forward to reading more of. In fact, all characters in Deadly Harvest are well written and convincing, many of which have back stories and character arcs that you know are going to make for intriguing stories as the Detective Kubu series continues (Deadly Harvest is the fourth and the fifth – A Death In The Family – is due soon).
The writer, Michael Stanley is, in fact, the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. Both Sears and Trollip were born in South Africa and on a flying trip to Botswana, they watched a pack of hyenas hunt, kill, and devour a wildebeest, eating both flesh and bones. That gave them the premise for their first mystery, A Carrion Death, which introduced Detective ‘Kubu’ Bengu of the Botswana Criminal Investigation Department. I’ve read books set in many a location but never one set in Botswana. It meant that this was one of those books that sent me off to that search engine beginning with G to discover more – always a good thing. Messrs Sears and Trollip write of Botswana with an authority that places the reader firmly in the location. They do a great job of weaving in genuine social concerns both in terms of the country’s political climate, the divide between wealthy and poor and the growing threat of AIDS and its devastating impact on families. The writers have a clear gift both for story-telling and hooking a reader – I was asking myself throughout as to just how the killer had lured the girls into his car so easily and the final reveal left me going back through wondering how I’d missed those clues that Kubu had put together. A genuinely intriguing and rewarding read.
Thanks again to Karen at Orenda for continuing to send me such high-quality novels and inviting me to be a part of this blog tour for Deadly Harvest. Do get a hold of the book if my review has any sway and check out the other stops below: