The Prologue depicts a child named Gobiwasi being initiated into the rites and secrets of his Bushman heritage by his father. They go on a quest to a mysterious cave glittering with lights twinkling in the firelight. The boy takes a mysterious powder after two or three days of fasting, lies down to sleep, and meets the spirits who lead the life of his people. We know, of course, we'll meet him later.
A provincial Park policeman named Monzo is missing. While not liked or missed by much of anybody at their headquarters office, an investigation must be conducted. An officer named Lareko is assigned, goes to visit the nearly dead body of Monzo in the desert wastes, where he finds him surrounded by three Bushmen trying to revive him with some of their precious water. Lareko jumps to the conclusion that they're merely covering their own tracks and are the people who assaulted Monzo, who dies before reaching the hospital. Case closed. Or is it? Assistant Superintendent in the Botswana Criminal Investigation Department David "Kubu" Bengu, thinks something is out of place and convinces his supervisor to permit him to continue the investigation. Soon his old school friend Khumanego, an educated Bushman living away from the dessert and working as an advocate for his people, arrives, complaining bitterly that an injustice is being done based on prejudice against his primitive people. And so the mystery begins.
While my hopes of encountering an African Hillerman were not met by this title, the effort to present the culture of southern Africa in Botswana succeeds, at least partially. Cultural conflicts are shown with understanding and a good deal of sympathy. The harsh desert environment of the Kalahari both threatens and beckons, its call to the adventurous clear. Detective Kubu is a character the reader wants to know better and to follow in his adventures. Dialogue in the book is neither as lively nor as immediate as are the descriptions of nature. I'd wish for a clearer, more vivid depiction of Kubu's home and office environment beyond the heat and sweat. Domestic scenes in this novel are simply not convincing. Perhaps a deeper immersion in detective fiction writing and continued work within the genre will yield a more engaging style. Meanwhile, Death of the Mantis has its pleasures, not the least of which are Kubu himself and his confrontation with the real dangers of survival in the Kalahari Desert.
Death of the Mantis by Michael Stanley is a 2011 publication by Harper. The book was provided to me by the publisher through TLC Book Tours.