|Jwaneng Diamond Mine, Botswana|
Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip write under the name Michael Stanley. Their award-winning mystery series, featuring Detective Kubu, is set in Botswana, a fascinating country with magnificent conservation areas and varied peoples. Facets of Death, the latest book in the series, is a prequel. Their latest thriller, Shoot the Bastards, introduces Minnesotan environmental journalist Crystal Nguyen. Set mainly in South Africa, it has as back-story the vicious trade in rhino horn.
Michael has lived in South Africa, Kenya, Australia and the US. He now lives in Knysna on the Cape south coast of South Africa. Stanley splits his time between Minneapolis, Cape Town, and Denmark. Learn more about them at their website and the Murder is Everywhere blog they share with eight other international mystery authors.
A Need for a Prequel
We, Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, write a police procedural series under the name Michael Stanley. The protagonist is Assistant Superintendent David ‘Kubu’ Bengu of the Botswana police.
The first Kubu novel, A Carrion Death, was set contemporaneously with its publication in 2008. Each successive book followed the same pattern. After six Kubu novels, we took a break and wrote Dead of Night (titled Shoot the Bastards in North America), a stand-alone thriller about rhino poaching.
When we started writing A Carrion Death, we didn’t plan that Kubu would be the protagonist. As novice novelists, we heeded the advice of experienced writers, who said we should write about what we knew. So, as academics, we planned that a brilliant young ecologist would discover a body that had been left in the desert for hyenas to devour and go on to solve the mystery.
However, it was obvious to our young professor that it was no accident that the body was lying naked on the Kalahari sands. It was a case of murder, and the police had to be called in. So we sent a detective, David Bengu, from the Criminal Investigation Department headquarters in Gaborone into the Kalahari in his Land Rover. He was a large man with the nickname Kubu – hippopotamus in the local language.
He provisioned himself with sandwiches and something to drink. He brought along some cassette tapes of some of his favourite operas to sing along with in his only-sing-when-no-one-is-around baritone.
He also had time to muse about how a Bushman school friend had shown him how to see clues of things hidden in the desert, such as the stone-like Lithops plants and the trapdoor spiders. Aha, we said. That was the spark that made Kubu want to become a detective. He would train himself to look beyond the obvious.
By the time this larger-than-life character had visited the scene of the crime and interviewed the men who’d found the body, he made it clear to us that he had to be the main character. That came as a complete surprise. We thought we were in charge of the story.
But how well did we actually know him?
During the series, we discovered he was smart and good at solving problems. He was happily married and sober almost all of the time. His character developed, his relationships with his wife, parents, and colleagues deepened, and he became more solid, more three-dimensional.
But there was nothing that explained how he’d gone from school to being the star detective in the Botswana CID. It was not just a hole in his background but in a way, a gap in his character.
Diamonds have always been one of Botswana’s most important exports and allowed the newly independent country to flourish. The two richest diamond mines in the world are there, owned by a joint venture between the government and the diamond giant De Beers. The fact that the country was almost totally reliant on diamonds for its success made us wonder about the impact of a massive heist. Could it shake the country’s financial foundation?
We decided to address both the issue of Kubu’s early role in the CID and a robbery at the height of the diamond boom by writing a prequel to the series –a mystery that starts the day he joins the CID as a new detective straight out of university without ever having to be a constable on the beat.
Immediately things started to take shape. Kubu’s first case is a minor matter concerning a few suitcases going missing at Gaborone airport. Yet it’s a challenging puzzle, and he loves it. However, the other detectives, who have come up in the CID the hard way, have no time for him. He has to struggle to find a place for himself. Then, a massive diamond robbery takes place, and suddenly everything changes. Everyone is thrown into the case, even the raw detective in his first week on the job.
As we wrote the prequel, we were delighted to watch Kubu develop, having insights, but also making the mistakes that only experience can avoid. He earns respect, but also opprobrium. Eventually, Kubu and his boss deduce who the mastermind behind the robbery actually is, but they have no strong evidence. Now they have to find some way to catch him, and they both find their careers on the line—in Kubu’s case, before his career has even begun.
Writing Facets of Death was a journey of exploration for us. We learnt a lot about how Kubu became the CID’s best detective and about who he is as a person. We know him better now.
It was fifteen years between putting fingers to keys for A Carrion Death and Facets of Death. We enjoyed writing the prequel just as much as the debut. We hope readers will enjoy the young Kubu’s journey also.
Facets of Death
A prequel to the award-winning Detective Kubu series
David Bengu has always stood out from the crowd. His personality and his physique match his nickname, Kubu—Setswana for "hippopotamus"—a seemingly docile creature, but one of the deadliest in Africa. His keen mind and famous persistence have seen him rise in the Botswana CID. But how did he get his start?
His resentful new colleagues are suspicious of a detective who has entered the CID straight from university, skipping the usual beat cop phase.
Shortly after he joins the CID, the richest diamond mine in the world is robbed of 100,000 carats of diamonds in transit. The robbery is well executed and brutal. Police immediately suspect an inside job, but there is no evidence of who it could be.
When the robbers are killed execution-style in South Africa and the diamonds are still missing, the game changes, and suspicion focuses on a witch doctor and his son. Does "Kubu" have the skill and the integrity to engineer an international trap and catch those responsible, or will the biggest risk of his life end in disaster?