Source: Review copy
Publication: 8 December from Orenda Books
While building a pipeline near the Okavango Delta, a contractor unearths the remains of a long-dead Bushman. Rookie Detective David ‘Kubu’ Bengu of Botswana CID and Scottish pathologist, Ian MacGregor, are sent to investigate, and MacGregor discovers the skeletons of eight more men.
Shortly after the gruesome discoveries, the elder of a nearby village is murdered in his home. The local police are convinced it was a robbery, but Kubu isn’t so sure … and neither is the strange woman who claims that an angry river spirit caused the elder’s death.
As accusations of corruption are levelled and international outrage builds over the massacre of the Bushman families, Kubu and his colleagues uncover a deadly covenant, and begin to fear that their own lives may be in mortal danger…
A Deadly Covenant takes us back in time to Detective David ‘Kubu’ Bengu’s early years in the Botswana CID. This makes an ideal entry point for new readers to this series. Eager, determined to learn from his mentor and superior officer, Assistant Superintendent Jacob Mabaku, Kubu is sent to a small village by the Okavango Delta where a contractor building a water pipeline has unearthed a skeleton. His travelling companion is the down to earth Scottish pathologist Ian MacGregor. The expectation of Kubu’s superiors is that this will be a straightforward case that will give Kubu some experience, but of course it doesn’t quite work out like that.
Soon Kubu is up to his neck in murder and at odds with the local police force who seem determined to pin the blame on Selelo, a local bushman, though there is absolutely no evidence to substantiate their belief that he is the perpetrator. But Bushmen are looked down on and he is the perfect scapegoat.
Michael Stanley beautifully describes the countryside and we get a real sense of the stunning visual scenery and of a village at a time of change when customs and history, tribalism and belief are vying with the onset of progress and the wielding of power for opportunistic reasons.
Into this turbulence comes the naïve Detective Kubu. A young man with good instincts and a healthy respect for the law, he is at the early stage of his career and these are the experiences that will inform his progress.
It’s lovely, too to see how his almost romance with Joy, an office colleague, is just beginning to burgeon and his hopes and aspirations are sweet and endearing.
As Kubu investigates it is clear that there are multiple threads to this case. A historic case hangs over this whole affair and it is not until the truth of that is uncovered that the rest will come into focus.
Michael Stanley shows us how Kubu, working with Jacob Mabaku slowly becomes confident enough to speak his theories out loud and to have some confidence in his own deductive processes. His mentor guides and prods him gently until he gets to the place in his head where he needs to be in order to process all the information and come to the right conclusions – or at least head off in the right direction.
I liked the respect and understanding Kubu gives to Selelo, knowing that coming from a different culture and tradition doesn’t make someone a suspect. There are themes here that are as relevant to us here and now as they were to Botswana then, including a strong environmental thread.
A Deadly Covenant is a textured, layered novel with a strong narrative arc that brings together many threads and weaves them into a rich and colourful tapestry. It is simple in format, but complex in motivation and character and the authors deserve praise for handling those complexities so deftly.
Verdict: I do enjoy the Detective Kubu series, and this glimpse into his early years in the Police Force is a real delight as we see him grow in confidence on his way to becoming a brilliant detective.
Michael Stanley is the writing team of South African authors Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. On a flying trip to Botswana, they watched a pack of hyenas hunt, kill and devour a wildebeest, eating both flesh and bones. That gave them the premise for their first mystery, A Carrion Death, which introduced Detective ‘Kubu’ Bengu of the Botswana CID. It was a finalist for five awards, including the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger. The third in the series, Death of the Mantis, won the Barry Award for Best Paperback Original mystery and was a finalist for an Edgar award. Deadly Harvest was a finalist for an International Thriller Writers’ award. A Death inthe Family and Dying to Live are the latest in the Detective Kubu series, published by Orenda Books. A prequel to the Detective Kubu series, Facets of Death, was published in 2021 and A Deadly Covenant follows Kubu’s second case.