Deadly Harvest by Michael Stanley

It is always refreshing to read a book that offers an education into a different cultural or historical background, whilst being a great narrative. I was looking forward to reading Deadly Harvest, partly because I had high hopes that it would tick these boxes and partly because it was published by Orenda Books, who seem to be my own personal library supplier, providing brilliant book after brilliant book at the moment!

Deadly Harvest is written under the pseudonym Michael Stanley. Actually written as a collaboration between two authors, Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, Deadly Harvest is a detective story set in Botswana. Two little girls disappear and the likeable Assistant Superintendent David ‘Kubu’ Benga is drawn into the investigation. A tenacious new detective, Samantha Khama, encourages Kubu to consider the possibility that these girls have been snatched and sacrificed by a witch doctor for muti, a traditional African medicine consisting of herbs, animal parts and on occasion, human parts.  As modern technology and ways encroach on the traditional attitudes and routines, the investigation is hampered and helped in equal measure by both mindsets. As the lines become blurred between those in authority who are genuine and those who are not, no-one can be trusted as Kubu and Samantha solve their case.

The reader gets a real feel for a traditional Botswana community and the characters within it, from those who are cynical about witch doctors and the power they have, to those who emphatically believe and fear the power. We are exposed to a diverse set of characters from the most powerful to the most vulnerable and, of course, those in between, which gives great depth to the narrative and a range of characters to consider as a threat to those who would be sought after for muti.

There are lots of emotive topics broached in this narrative. Racism, sexism, politics and AIDS all feature in some facet in this book which adds an extra level of investment from the reader as they undoubtedly bring their own thoughts and opinions about these matters. For my part, I was enraged, sympathetic, irritated and moved at various points in the book and this is always a good response to any book for me.

I really enjoyed this book for it’s relaxed pace which seemed to draw out the suspense beautifully, mirroring to some extent the pace in Botswana. I did have a hunch as to who the culprit would be quite a bit before the reveal but that did not make me enjoy this book any less. I wanted to be right, and I was! I loved the ‘Cast of Characters’ list at the front of the book (I’m that sad girl who has to try and pronounce unusual names as a challenge!) and also the glossary at the back of the book, for the African terms used throughout the book. They were quite straightforward to pick up in context but it was good to have the glossary to check.

Admittedly, this is probably not a book I would have picked up of my own accord but that is entirely a flaw on my part as I really enjoyed this novel and I am keen to read future Michael Stanley novels, not to mention the books the other Detective Kubu novels already written. This is a fantastic novel; a sumptuous narrative filled with twists, turns and a rich tapestry of Botswana culture and landscape. Not necessarily for the faint-hearted, but a truly enjoyable read. Another Orenda Books success, I have no doubt.