Deadly Harvest, by Michael Stanley, is a crime thriller set in Botswana, a country that is modernising yet struggling to shake off the superstitions and prejudices of its traditional past. The story takes the reader to the heart of this struggle. Young girls are going missing, vanishing in broad daylight close to their homes. They leave no trace. The concern is that they are being taken for their body parts, believed by many to enhance the strength of potions known as muti which are created by witch doctors. Little can be proved as no bodies have been found.
This is the fourth adventure in the Detective Kubu series, and the first to be released in the UK by Orenda Books. Kubu is joined here by a new recruit, Detective Samantha Khama. Khama is a feisty if somewhat impetuous addition to the force. She is determined to prove her worth and be treated as equal to her male colleagues, many of whom still believe that a woman’s place is in the home.
Against the advice of her superiors, Khama has requested that she be allowed to reopen the cases of the missing girls, closed because no new leads could be found. Kubu meanwhile is sent to interview an upcoming politician, Bill Marumo, who has discovered a severed dogs head left outside his home and claims he is being threatened by his political opponents. Kubu suspects this may be a publicity stunt but the man’s public profile requires that the police be seen to act.
The investigations collide when there is a murder. Soon after another person is reported missing. As Kubu and Khama try to piece together what few clues they have new information comes to light. Their source demands anonymity, to protect his reputation and for fear of a witch doctor’s revenge. Kubu must decide if he is willing to risk his own career and that of a colleague to seek justice.
As with any system of belief, the witch doctors trade on hope and fear. They have their costumes and their rituals to ensure they appear apart from mere men. Their followers are willing to pay a high cost when promised personal gain.
The dramatic denouement demonstrates how difficult it can be to overcome ingrained beliefs. Even the most rational can waver when what is before their eyes is difficult to process and explain.
The writing is a wonderful mix of colourful imagery and brooding undercurrents. Kubu provides humour but also a depth of character with the obvious pleasure he takes in his family, his concerns for his aging parents, his immense love of food, and the intuition he brings to the case. I felt a little discomfort at two white men creating what seemed to be stereotypical, uneducated black africans, but the authors have lived in their setting. I did not question their ability to create females so perhaps am being overly sensitive on this score.
It is always good to explore a new country through fiction and I enjoyed my introduction to Botswana. This is a darkly entertaining and compelling work of crime fiction. A fine addition to the Orenda stable of books.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Orenda Books.