Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu, by Michael Stanley ($14.99)

I have to commend Michael Stanley for daring to write a mystery novel set in Botswana, especially if it is a little like Alexander MacCall Smith's more famous series but not really. There is the same wonderful deliberate attention to daily life in Botswana. Batswana (Botswanians) abide by patience and politeness, according to MacCall Smith and Stanley. It sounds like a grand way to live, with high regard for other people and nature. But the comparison doesn't extend too much further. Stanley's Botswana has rougher language and more violence. Stanley's books acknowledge the reality of what is going on in neighboring countries and how that affects Botswana. It's not as pretty a picture as MacCall Smith's, but it's more clever.

The murder of two men who are guests at a lodge in the northern part of Botswana snowballs with plenty of subterfuge, suspects, and motives. Each time a suspect is tracked, we learn a little more about the real history of the southern part of Africa. Although atrocious acts are given play, they mostly happen offstage. The main heroic characters are gently developed and tenderly nurtured. Even the description of the murders is circumspect. The language is rougher than in MacCall Smith's books, but not by much; swearing is judiciously used.

Inspector Kubu is the hero. He is a larger-than-life character, literally. He loves food and drink, and has a large girth to show for it. His wife Joy is the joy of his life. She is a fairly modern woman with a respect for tradition. Kubu's boss, Mabaku, gives him lots of leeway and respect, but is no soft touch. Kubu's main assistant, Tatwa, is competent and eager. Mabaku complains that he is running a menagerie, because "Kubu" means hippo and "Tatwa" means giraffe, both nicknames that are descriptive of physical characteristics.

This is a story with both charm and punch. As the scope of the problem grows, so does the confusion, until all is resolved, for better or worse, at the end. I enjoyed this book so much, I'm going to have to back up and read the first in Stanley's series, A Carrion Death. By the way, Michael Stanley is the pseudonym for two writers, both South Africans, one of whom lives in South Africa and the other in the United States. A great pairing of people who know the culture and who also know how to interpret that for western readers.

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