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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Book Snapshots: "A Carrion Death" by Michael Stanley.

My grandmother liked her soap operas. As a little girl, I recall being impressed by the florid opening music and video for her programs, including The Secret Storm and The Edge of Night (This is THE EDGE (dramatic pause) OF NIGHT). Reading A Carrion Death reminded me of those old programs: Slow plot, racy bits, lots of characters, and while not a spellbinding page turner, you stick with the story to find out what happens.

The book, co-authored by Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, is set in Botswana. The protagonist is David "Kubu" Bengu, a detective with the Botswana Criminal investigation Department. The mystery begins with the finding of the dead body being eaten by a hyena in the desert sands of a remote tourist camp. Kubu, which means hippopotamus in Setswana, investigates. Someone has gone to a great deal of effort to insure that the body cannot be identified. As Kubu tries to solve this first mystery, more bodies accumulate. Soon the crimes begin to link together and point to the goings-on at one of Botswana's largest businesses, the Botswana Cattle and Mining Company.

The involvement of the mining company brings political headaches to Kubu's investigation. And if murder, mining, and political shenanigans aren't enough for one book, the story also sweeps in Bushmen and a witch doctor (forcing my tolerant spouse to put up with a week of me humming Sha Na Na's witch doctor song ("I told the witch doctor I was in love with you, dum dum dum dum. . .")).

Like Sha Na Na's music, the style in which this story is told feels out-of-date. Also, there is a bit of redundancy in the telling; information is provided, and then repeated again on the next page as if this were a scholarly explanation of a problem rather than fictional police procedural. However, despite it's flaws I stuck with A Carrion Death for its entire 462 pages. Kubu is a good character and the setting is interesting. And like soap opera fans who understand that they aren't watching Masterpiece Theater but tune into their program anyway, I'll probably read subsequent books in this new series just to find out what happens next.

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