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A DEATH IN THE FAMILY
by Michael Stanley
Minotaur, October 2015
352 pages
$26.99
ISBN: 1250070899


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Assistant Superintendent David Bengu, known as Kubu because his generous shape reminds friends of a hippopotamus, is roused from a delicious dream by a phone call. It's bad news. His father has been found dead, stabbed to death on a street near his home. It's a horrible shock. Kubu's elderly father had been a traditional healer who had no enemies. He had told his wife that he was going out to meet a friend. Nobody knows who that friend was or what the meeting was about.

Kubu is distraught and deeply frustrated that his boss won't allow him to participate in the investigation. He can't resist asking questions, even though he's too emotionally involved to interrogate suspects coolly. Jacob Mabaku, head of the criminal investigation division, threatens Kubu with dismissal if he doesn't stay out of it. Though Kubu's experience and skill would normally be welcome, his reckless involvement now could endanger a prosecution.

Instead, Kubu is sent to look into what was originally considered the suicide of a government official, and he quickly realizes that the skeptics may be right. His investigation draws him into a conflict between traditional land stewardship and the current need for jobs as well as between two economic superpowers' 21st-century imperial ambitions for Africa. Meanwhile, Kubu continues to gather up threads that may relate to his father's murder, wanting to find a reason for the murder of a gentle man who was suffering from the early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. If it was simply an opportunistic act of violence, he may never have an answer.

The writing duo behind this series presents readers with a fond picture of Botswana, a large country with a small population that evaded much of the strife of colonialism and apartheid that shaped its neighbor, South Africa. With relatively simple prose and the addition of a map, a character list, and a short glossary, they use criminal investigations to explore the current problems Batswanans are negotiating through the sympathetic eyes of a gifted detective with a beloved family and a healthy appetite. In this entry in the series, Kubu's detective skills and common sense are at times overridden by his feelings, but he nevertheless carries on investigating the complex case he's been given while trying to come to terms with the fact that some crimes are especially hard to solve because they make no sense at all.

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, December 2015

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