Michael Stanley: A Death in the Family

deathinthefamilyThe fifth book in the Detective Kubu series set in Botswana is by far the most heartbreaking. While Stanley doesn’t shy away from his share of heartbreaking issues, this one hits home, as Kubu’s lovely, gentle father, Wilmon, is murdered. Kubu and his wife Joy are jangled awake by a terrible middle of the night phone call, and Kubu of course rushes to his mother’s side, refusing his boss’ offer of a ride. Stanley is able to beautifully portray the intrusion of grief into this family’s life and all the confusing and awful changes that grief brings with it. While sometimes younger “hipper” writers are the more celebrated, older authors bring life experience and knowledge to their writing which illuminates and deepens what they’re writing about, and that’s the case here.

As Kubu is told to back off from his father’s case he’s put on forced leave to help his mother plan the funeral, which in Botswana is a large, community wide affair. The description of nightly singing on the porch to celebrate and remember Wilmon’s life was especially moving and made me a little bit jealous that I don’t live in Botswana myself.

Of course Kubu eventually wants to return to work and while he’s having a very hard time (and not always a successful one) staying away from his father’s case, he’s called in when there’s a terrible mass stampede resulting in deaths at the meeting of a village council. As Kubu untangles the threads, they seem to be tied to a possible new uranium mine in the village in question; the elder chief was against it as he feared it would change village life for the worse; the younger members, including the chief’s son, are eager for the jobs the mine would bring.

Kubu makes a few missteps in terms of his father’s investigation and is finally sent in exasperation to New York by his boss to give a talk at the UN. The scenes of Kubu arriving in freezing, crowded, bustling New York City are completely priceless. He makes the most of his time there and interviews a suspect who had left Botswana, which gives him some new ideas.

Michael Stanley’s plots are always complex, and this one is no exception, but as always, the whole is held together by the delightful Detective Kubu. He’s by far one of my favorite contemporary detectives, with his smarts, his love of food and wine, his love of his family, and his relationship with his fellow policemen. This book is bound even more tightly together by the death of Wilmon, a thread that highlights the closeness of Kubu’s family and is helped by the development of the characters through all of the novels. Whether you read these novels for Kubu’s dreams of food or his deductive reasoning or the Botswana setting or for his family life (or all of the above) you’ll be relentlessly charmed by this wonderful sleuth.