Michael Stanley is the nom de plume that my friend Michael Sears and I (Stan Trollip) use for A Carrion Death, our first novel.
It was at the lion research center in the Savuti, an ancient dried-up lake in Botswana’s Chobe National Park, that we realized how to conceal a perfect murder. One evening we watched hyenas team up to drive lions off their fresh kills, then devour everything in sight, bones and all. By the next morning, no evidence remained of the carcass
Michael drafted the opening scene of A Carrion Death within a week after I broached the possibility of collaboration. Both natives of Africa, we have traveled regularly together to Botswana and Zimbabwe over the past twenty years to photograph wildlife and go bird watching. Our book reflects the authentic Africa of the 21st century: not merely the politically unstable, desperately poor Africa of the nightly news, but also the emotional conflicts of people with one foot in traditional culture and the other in Western-instigated globalism. The new Africa is not the safari jungle, but a collection of diverse tribes and nations struggling to find their way in a rapidly changing context.
Botswana offered the ideal setting for our book. A successful democracy with some of the richest diamond mines in the world, Botswana is in constant tension with its past. The San or bushmen of Botswana, for example, exemplify the cultural conflicts of the evolving continent. Historically they have been nomadic, eking a living from the Kalahari Desert with great skill, but now the government wants to keep them in a fixed location, ostensibly for the delivery of modern services.
The range of beliefs in Botswana encompasses both superstitious pantheism and fervent Christianity, and sangomas - traditional healers - are consulted as often as Western-style doctors and nurses.
In our research, we were shocked to discover that ritual murders still occasionally occur in contemporary, democratic Botswana. Evil sangomas occasionally kill young girls to procure body parts believed to bestow great power, and sometimes men in positions of authority also perform such murders to enhance their power. In one case, the people of a village took to the streets to protest the death of a girl and the seeming inability of the police to solve the case. Even after the matter was turned over to Scotland Yard, the final report was never made public, leading to widespread speculation that influential people were involved. The sangoma in A Carrion Death, perceptive and wise but ignored as a trickster, embodies the dichotomy between traditional and Western values.
Our protagonist is Assistant Superintendent David Bengu, known as Kubu because of his size – “kubu” being the Setswana word for hippopotamus. Hippos in the wild spend most of the day in pools or rivers, with all but their eyes and ears under water; they look deceptively docile, belying the fact that they kill more people in Africa than any other animal, trampling whatever lies between them and their objective. So with Kubu. On the surface he appears harmless; a convivial man with a sly sense of humor who loves his wife, who is passionate about wine and classical music. But Kubu is a capable, wily policeman determined to rid Botswana of crime and corruption, no matter what gets in his way.
Michael and I enjoy both a local and transglobal collaboration, mainly via e-mail and Skype. Michael lives in Johannesburg, South Africa; I spend half the year in Knysna, a small town on South Africa’s Indian Ocean coast, and half in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
We are often asked how two authors can write fiction together. Our answer is that we cannot imagine writing fiction alone. We believe that the constant interchange of ideas has led to a book far better than either of us could write alone. Plus we have had so much fun working together.
An excerpt from A Carrion Death was short-listed by the Crime Writers Association of the UK for the 2006 Debut Dagger Award. The full book will be published in the United States on April 1, 2008 by Harper Collins, and in the UK on April 3, 2008 by Headline. In France, J.C. Latte will publish the French translation, and in Italy, Sonzogno will shepherd the Italian edition.
We recently had our first review – in the February 1, 2008 issue of Booklist. Here it is:
Assistant Superintendent David Bengu earned his nickname, Kubu (hippopotamus), for his size, generally amiable nature, and occasional ferocity, all of which are evident in this lengthy but fast-moving story, the debut of writing team Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. Kubu is called out to a remote tourist camp in Botswana when the manager finds a hyena chewing on human remains. What first seems to be a simple case of death by desert turns into something much more complex, as the Botswana Cattle and Mining Company turns up in every corner. Soon people start to go missing, beginning with a geologist whose specialty is diamonds. Rich with the atmosphere of modern Botswana, and peopled with interesting and well-drawn characters, this is an exciting debut, which will leave readers looking forward to reading the next investigation of Assistant Superintendent Kubu. Recommend to readers who like the Botswana setting of Alexander McCall Smith’s stories and all readers who enjoy international police procedurals with a strong sense of place.
— Jessica Moyer
Needless to say we were delighted with the review. We hope every reader of McCall Smith will read A Carrion Death!
We learned a huge amount writing A Carrion Death and are now happily at work on a second novel featuring Detective Kubu. We have tentatively titled it The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu. It deals with the tragedy of Botswana’s northern neighbor, Zimbabwe. It is scheduled for publication in 2009.
Please visit Detective Kubu at his web site: www.detectivekubu.com. Read a transcript there of a radio interview he did with a Botswana radio station!
PATHS TO PUBLICATION, Heidi Ruby Miller, Michael Stanley, Stanley Trollip, Michael Sears, A Carrion Death, Detective Kubu, writing, author interviews