I am over the moon to be handing the blog over to author Michael Stanley, as part of the blog tour for his latest novel, Dying to Live as he explores the themes running through his books. Ober to you Michael …
DYING TO LIVE
All the Detective Kubu mysteries have a theme that explores some aspect of the southern African context as a backdrop to the story. This isn’t in order to push our view point on any issue or explicitly to inform people, but rather because these are the ambient issues which often drive the crimes and illicit activities in the region. Thus our first book, A Carrion Death, follows illegal diamond trading—a big issue in Botswana, which is the world’s largest diamond producer; the second, A Deadly Trade, follows the spill-over into surrounding countries of the civil war in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia); the third, Death of the Mantis, highlights the plight of the Bushman peoples of the Kalahari and their struggle to adapt to the new world; the fourth, Deadly Harvest, shows the pervasive power of witchcraft and the ambivalence of even sophisticated people towards it; and A Death in the Family addresses the growing influence of the Chinese in twenty-first century Africa.
Dying to Live is no exception, but the new book has two drivers. The first is the issue of biopiracy, the second is the universal greed that it could engender.
Biopiracy is the term used when an outsider learns of a plant or animal product, which for many years has been used by indigenous people for healing or other medical use, and takes it over for their own purposes without recognition or compensation of the people concerned. Many countries have enacted laws forbidding this practice and such cultural appropriation is generally frowned upon.
A celebrated case in southern Africa was the Hoodia plant, an unattractive succulent of the Kalahari, whose woody material has been used by certain Bushman groups for centuries as an appetite suppressant on their long hunts and travels through the desert.
The story started when South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) spotted the possible value of such a compound in the western world, where people eat too much and are trying to cut down their calorie intake. In 1972, they analysed the plant for an active ingredient and came up with one they named P57. They then engaged in a joint venture with a British pharmaceutical company that managed to isolate the ingredient, but claimed it was hard to synthesise and subsequently released the rights to the material. Unilever snapped it up and reportedly spent ten million pounds on trying to develop a weight-loss drug from it.
Meanwhile, various groups had mounted a campaign to ensure that the Bushmen received compensation for their indigenous knowledge that had led directly to what could be a bonanza. Amid accusations of biopiracy, the CSIR was forced to respond and set up a royalty arrangement for the Bushmen.
The story didn’t have a happy ending. Unilever cancelled the project. Trials hadn’t shown significant weight loss, and had indicated a variety of side effects. The game wasn’t worth the candle. The Bushmen got nothing.
The Kalahari is a huge area and plants there have evolved differently from elsewhere in the world.
Remembering the Hoodia story, we wondered what if there was a plant out there with really valuable properties. Something that would heal wounds. What if it even prolonged life? It’s hard to imagine anything more valuable. People would want it for themselves, and they would want it for the money. We also realised that it didn’t even matter if the plant actually existed. Rhinos are endangered not because of the medicinal properties of their horns–there aren’t any–but because people believe in those healing properties. Similarly, Hoodia is now available as a ‘dietary supplement’ (hence avoiding regulatory tests), and the industry is worth millions of dollars, yet there’s no scientific evidence that it does any good, and at least anecdotal evidence that it can do harm.
So our story starts with the discovery of the body of a Bushman who’s obviously very old. His skin is extremely wrinkled, and his hair is pure white–very unusual for a nomadic Bushman. Then at the autopsy it turns out that not only were his internal organs as healthy as those of a young man, but an ancient bullet was lodged in one of his abdominal muscles with no scar from an entry wound.
The pathologist is so puzzled that he calls Kubu to see for himself. Also, there is reason to believe that this man–or someone very like him–had been talking about being shot at by mounted men, as though he was an actual victim of one of the sickening bushman ‘hunts’ of the late nineteenth century.
This is when the second theme starts to appear. Greed. Everyone now wants whatever it is that the Bushman used to prolong his life and heal his wounds: other Bushmen who knew him; an American anthropologist with connections to a private pharmaceutical company; a university professor who studies local traditional medicine; a Chinese gang. And maybe also a witchdoctor who claims to prolong life, but who mysteriously disappears at much the same time that the Bushman’s body and the pathologist’s records are stolen. Even Kubu, struggling with his adopted daughter’s illness, is tempted.
Kubu and his young colleague, Samantha Khama, have their work cut out for them to untangle this web of deceit.
And does this miraculous plant really exist? Maybe. Maybe not.
Here’s the blurb …
Orenda Books (12 July 2017)
The sixth mystery in the beloved and critically acclaimed Detective Kubu series. Kubu and his colleague Samantha Khama track a killer through the wilds of Botswana on their most dangerous case yet.
When the body of a Bushman is discovered near the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, the death is written off as an accident. But all is not as it seems. An autopsy reveals that, although he’s clearly very old, his internal organs are puzzlingly young. What’s more, an old bullet is lodged in one of his muscles… but where is the entry wound? When the body is stolen from the morgue and a local witch doctor is reported missing, Detective ‘Kubu’ Bengu gets involved. But did the witch doctor take the body to use as part of a ritual? Or was it the American anthropologist who’d befriended the old Bushman? As Kubu and his brilliant young colleague, Detective Samantha Khama, follow the twisting trail through a confusion of rhino-horn smugglers, foreign gangsters and drugs manufacturers, the wider and more dangerous the case seems to grow. A fresh, new slice of ‘Sunshine Noir’, Dying to Live is a classic tale of greed, corruption and ruthless thuggery, set in one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes, and featuring one of crime fiction’s most endearing and humane heroes.
Sound good? Get your copy over at Amazon UK
About the author …
Michael Stanley is the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. Both were born in South Africa and have worked in academia and business. Stanley was an educational psychologist, specialising in the application of computers to teaching and learning, and is a pilot. Michael specialises in image processing and remote sensing, and teaches at the University of the Witwatersrand. The series has been critically acclaimed, and their third book, Death of the Mantis, won the Barry Award and was a finalist for an Edgar award. Deadly Harvest was a finalist for an International Thriller Writers award.