Death of the Mantis by Michael Stanley

DeathMantisIf you have become accustomed to the gentle mysteries and charming portrayal of Botswana in Alexander McCall Smith’s series featuring Mma Precious Ramotse, you will find this crime series less comfortable reading. Michael Stanley is the pen-name for the successful collaboration between Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, who are not from Botswana but have extensive experience of Southern Africa (one of them lives in Johannesburg). For an anthropologist, this novel is a dream: it not only has a very keen sense of place, but it also describes the conflict between the different ways of life of the ethnic groups in that country.


This is the third novel in a series featuring detective David ‘Kubu’ Bengu (Kubu is his nickname and means ‘Hippopotamus’, referring to his generous proportions), but it works equally well as a standalone novel or an introduction to the series. Kubu is an absolutely delightful character, a man caught between traditional and Western culture, with an equal love for his job, his parents, his wife and baby daughter, but also thirsting for truth and justice.


It starts out simply enough. A park ranger is found dead, with three Bushmen hovering near the body. Are they trying to help or did they commit murder? One local detective believes the latter, but Kubu is not so sure. Especially when he is asked to take on the case by his old school chum, also a Bushman who is now an advocate for the native rights of these people. The Bushmen or Khoisan – both names are used somewhat disparagingly for what is a diverse group of people –  used to roam freely in the Kalahari but are now being increasingly herded into reservations. The lack of evidence forces Kubu to free them, but then more murders take place, leading Kubu deeper into danger and forcing him to make difficult personal choices.


The Mantis, with its light brown colour and small proportions, is one of the animals most revered by the Bushmen of the Kalahari, and the double entendre of the title of this book is significant. While there are many deft humorous touches to the story, this is also a serious examination of societal issues and the consequences of modernisation. Yet these issues are addressed lightly, without preaching, in a thrilling and compelling story. I will certainly be reading more in this series and thank you to the book bloggers who have recommended it to me.


Sunrise in Botswana
Sunrise in Botswana (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


This was the final book (my second Africa entry) for my Global Reading challenge – Medium Level, hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise. Thank you to Kerrie for encouraging us to step out of our usual cultural comforts and for enabling me to discover so many new settings and authors this year!





8 thoughts on “Death of the Mantis by Michael Stanley”

  1. Marina Sofia – I’m so very glad you enjoyed this novel. I think this series is so well-written. And of course, I really do love the Kubu character. He’s absolutely terrific. 🙂 Thanks for the reminder and for this excellent review.

  2. The first book in this series will be one of my reads for the Global Reading Challenge in 2014. Glad to hear that the series is more edgy than the Alexander McCall Smith series. Great review and I look forward to beginning this series.

    1. I enjoyed the first 2-3 of the McCall Smith series, and then it began to be a bit sameish. I hope this series proves to be different, the first one I read was promising indeed. Do you like reading books in order then? I sometimes do and sometimes don’t.

      1. I do prefer to read in order, a bias I have had for years. But lately I have realized that there are some authors I may never read if I don’t just jump in wherever I can find a book… so I am doing that occasionally now.

  3. MarinaSofia, I am delighted when I come across a single book reviewed across your posts, which usually means it managed to grab your attention for good. I liked the way you ended the book -that subliminal significance of the title. It hints at certain richness of the craft of Michael Stanley.

    PS: I am tempted enough to pick it up but, sadly, I discovered it is a steeply priced book over here.

    1. I have to admit there is a practical reason why I sometimes do single book reviews rather than grouped ones: I have the luxury of more time and less business travel.
      But I hear you on the prohibitive costs of books in different parts of the world: I usually have this problem with Asian books. Maybe we should initiate an exchange?

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