Wednesday, 2 June 2010

“A Deadly Trade”, Michael Stanley

Crime writing set in Africa can take a number of forms. Robert Wilson's quartet of novels set in Benin paint pictures of West Africa that actively convince you that you would pay a lot of money to never go there. By contrast, the Botswana depicted in Michael Stanley's Detective Kubu novels is an altogether more appealing prospect.

This shouldn't come as too much of a surprise; in contrast to its neighbours, Botswana largely avoided the post-colonial political chaos endured by the likes of Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Angola, and unusually also managed to do something sensible with its mineral wealth. Obviously it's not without its issues, in particular rampant HIV infection rates, but in the main it feels like somewhere that could be a credible destination and indeed one with no small appeal. In this light, the centrality of tourist camps in the bush to the plot of “A Deadly Trade” is firmly within the bounds of plausability.

The core premise of multiple murders at the remote Jackalberry lodge camp, builds what ultimately feels like a somewhat overcomplicated plotline. It transpires that everyone at the camp on the night in question has some form of suspicious background and possible motivation. As narrative devices go this ends up feeling a little tired and redolent of the worst excesses of Agatha Christie, and in this case you're left with the distinct impression that there would have been a benefit to at least one of the plot's thread being unpicked in the editorial process.

What more than saves the work however is the persona of Detective Kubu. Here we find a marvellously appealing central character. The rotund detective, enormously food oriented, manages to strike just the right balance between crime fiction's obligatory level of insubordination and a credible level of effectiveness. At times too, he displays a reassuring level of 'crapness' that succeeds, in a very endearing way, of making him very human. In short, he's the sort of policeman you really wouldn't object to having as a neighbour.

My initial reaction was to be sceptical of “A Deadly Trade”, and it took its time to work its way to the head of the 'to-be-read' pile, but a combination of a well executed opening scene and an extremely accomplished sense of place managed to capture attention. For all the exasperation at some of the plot devices, it does engender a distinct curiousity about what's actually going to happen, and it passes the 'does it keep you up at night' test with flying colours. Great literature it probably isn't, but it's well worth a read.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book as a review copy from Hodder Headline

No comments:

Post a Comment