Book Review: A Death in the Family

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A Death in the Family, by Michael Stanley, is the fifth in the authors’ Detective Kubu series and the second to be published by Orenda Books. In this instalment, Detective David ‘Kubu’ Bengu must deal with being sidelined by his team when his frail and elderly father is murdered and he is banned from becoming involved as this would risk compromising the investigation. Despite understanding the reasoning for his exclusion Kubu struggles to stay away, frequently losing his temper with colleagues trying to do their jobs. It is only when he is given another case to run, a supposed suicide he believes may be murder, that he is able to add his inimitable flashes of inspiration.

Kubu is a seasoned and respected police detective despite his volatility. His boss is also prone to short tempered eruptions so perhaps this is a trait of the culture, the sense of entitlement the men carry and struggle to contain. Other less than desirable aspects of the rapid changes the Motswana are forced to deal with include the struggle women face to be accorded equal rights. A female detective shows great restraint when suspects attempt to demean her. Domestic violence is rife and often ignored.

The story opens with Kubu being woken in the night and informed of the attack on his father. He rushes to his mother’s side and brings her to his home. She refuses to stay for more than a few days as she has a huge funeral to organise. The way her friends and neighbours come together to assist with this is a welcome positive aspect of the traditional culture. Kubu is expected to pay but the women support each other and willingly share the workload.

Simmering in the background is mention of a mining contract in Shoshong, a town close to the former home of Kubu’s ancestors. The young men of the area need jobs. The elders have seen mining companies renege on promises in the past to the detriment of locals. The clash between young and old erupts into violence. Kubu suspects corrupt dealings between politicians and the Chinese mining company wishing to expand. He is offered evidence supporting his suspicions but it has been illegally obtained.

Kubu’s vast girth and love of food are used to add humour. I admit to feeling some discomfort at this trope. I did though enjoy his short trip to New York, especially the contrasts between Botswana and America. I wonder at the size the authors envisage Kubu given that he struggled to fit through some American doors.

The writing style is gentle and the pace slow to get going but once hooked I finished the book in a sitting. There were few surprises in the denouement but it tied up the many threads in a satisfying way.

An atmospheric police procedural uncovering the shadows that lurk beneath an unrelenting African sun. Botswana is presented with much sympathy but also honesty. This is a country in transition whose resources have long been pillaged by foreigners. The addition of another rapidly developing nation, China, trying to take without giving adds an interesting dimension to a congenial read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher.

This review is a stop on the ‘A Death in the Family’ Blog Tour. Do check out the other posts, listed below.


‘A Death in the Family’ is published by Orenda Books and is available to buy now.