Monday, October 26, 2015

A Death in the Family

Michael and Stanley - Thursday

Tuesday saw the release of the new Detective Kubu mystery, A DEATH IN THE FAMILY.  We were delighted to have the launch once again at the wonderful Once Upon a Crime bookshop in Minneapolis and are grateful to Pat and Gary and all the friends and readers who came to support us.


Backlist! With request to support wonderful Books for Africa!

Awaiting purchase!

More signing!

Standing-room only!

Michael talking
The idea for the story originated during a trip Stanley made through northern Namibia and Botswana.  In Namibia, even in the smallest towns, he noticed a proliferation of Chinese-owned shops.  He also saw several instances of local Namibians joking with the Chinese, who appeared not to want to join in the fun.

When Stanley was driving between Katchikau and Goma Bridge in north-west Botswana – a road we’ve both driven several times before – he found the road now paved, with no economic reason justifying the upgrade.  Then he saw a new, small village next to the road – a Chinese village – surrounded by a barbed-wire fence.

The metropolis of Katchikau
Subsequent research showed that many infrastructure projects were being done by Chinese companies that imported Chinese labor, ignoring the locals. So there was a situation where locals were being side-lined by the Chinese; the Chinese were making no attempts at integrating with the locals and were isolating themselves; and the natural friendliness of the locals was being rebuffed by the Chinese.
What a good backdrop for a murder mystery!

And we discovered a lot more as we dug deeper.  Chinese companies were using the muscle of their government to undercut other contractors, and often offering barter deals for raw materials in the poorer countries.  And sometimes they also combined low quality with low prices.  The new airport in Gaborone was years overdue when the Botswana government eventually fired the Chinese contractor; the new power station has yet to reach better than fifty percent capacity without failure.

The new airport -
 after it had been finished by a German company.

Chinese-run infrastructure project
For the story, we wanted to do two things.  First, we wanted to take both Kubu and ourselves out of our comfort zones.  Second, we wanted the backstory to paint the picture of what we saw with respect to the Chinese in Africa.

To accomplish the first goal - taking Kubu and ourselves into places we hadn't been - the story has Kubu's beloved father murdered at the beginning of he book.  To make things worse, Kubu is sidelined from the investigation for fear that his presence would contaminate any prosecution.  Can Kubu stay out of the investigation?  Of course not!  Each time he tries to do something, his boss Mabaku gets angrier, eventually banishing Kubu to New York to deliver a speech to Interpol in his place.  Kubu's frustration is so great that he actually stops eating!

For the backstory, we situated a Chinese-owned mine near Shoshong—a historic town a few hours drive from Gaborone.  The mine wants to expand and promises jobs in an area far from the diamond riches; however, the elders want to preserve the culture and history of their village.

Modern Shoshong from the hills
As an aside, few people outside Botswana have heard of Shoshong, yet in its day it was the most important inland town in southern Africa – much more so than the current capital of Gaborone (which hardly existed at that time). 

The town thrived because it was strategically placed on the main road between Zimbabwe and southern Botswana.  It became an important trading centre and was host to hunters, missionaries, and famous explorers - including David Livingstone.  Some Europeans settled there, and traces of their tin-roofed rectangular houses and artefacts have been found in the area. 
However, the river dried up, and a prolonged drought caused the town to be abandoned in 1889.

The river today
Today, little is left of old Shoshong - only the remains of a few stone walls and the graveyard, and the memories of the elders of good times past.

Kubu's frustrations are somewhat mollified by having to investigate the apparent suicide of a government official. The threads lead him to the US embassy and to the Chinese owners of the Shoshong mine.  And eventually to the reason for his father’s murder.

For the past week or so, we've been gnawing on our fingernails waiting for reactions to our newest baby.  Every writer knows what that's about.  Fortunately, the initial reviews of A Death in the Family have been positive!  So forgive this annual BSP (Blatant Self Promotion) blog and allow us to quote a few:

The fifth rip-roaring mystery in the Detective Kubu series…exceptional police procedural plot…—South African Sunday Times

 Kubu returns with a vengeance – but what is prowling in the darkness of Botswana is more dangerous than the four-legged predators.  Then there are the Chinese who just may be the most dangerous of all … I love it!
Charles Todd (New York Times best-selling author)

Engrossing fifth mystery…as always, Stanley (the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip) brings to life a Botswana different from the one familiar to Alexander McCall Smith readers.
—Publishers Weekly

Like all the Kubu books, this one weaves societal and cultural problems into the plot. In this case, it's the generational divide between young people in the village of Shoshong who want the mine to expand because they need jobs, and the elders, who remember when promises of new houses and other goodies were made and not fulfilled. The way the young people speak to the elders is shocking to many older people who fear Botswana's traditions of respect are eroding. When there is a riot in the village during an elders' meeting, Kubu figures someone instigated it.
But was it the Chinese or one of his countrymen?
Sears and Trollip, both retired professors, have been in and out of Botswana much of their adult lives and their writing reflects their love for the landscape and the people. Kubu is an endearing character, even when he's angry, and you feel the people of Botswana are safe when this big man is on the job.
Mary Ann Grossmann in The Pioneer Press.

This latest Detective Kubu Mystery is a gem, although the Botswana assistant superintendent of its CID is one frustrated detective throughout most of the novel.

—Ted Feit

We'd love to see you at one of our events.  Please visit or for details.


  1. You never disappoint: It's always the precision of fine swiss-movement plots and mesmerizing explorations of intriguing societal themes. Kubu rules!

  2. Congratulations and best wishes for the future of the next adventure. But what is written on that T shirt you (Stanley!) are wearing?? If I try to enlarge the picture it looks like a cartoon chicken ??

    1. Chickens must look VERY different in Scotland, Caro. It says, "A Taste of Africa" and it looks like a hippo getting ready to eat SOMETHING.

  3. M&S, This theme is beyond intriguing for me. I am buying my copy at the Mysterious Bookshop on November 11th. The only thing that will distract me when I start reading it is if someone hands me a plane ticket to Botswana!

  4. Congratulations, Michael and Stanley, best wishes with the new baby! If you ever make it to Oregon, be sure to let me know.

  5. Using the swipey thing it does look like a Scottish chicken, which is the second most dangerous animal we have north of the border after an American called Col Saunders... etc etc. I think M&S might increase sales by marketing themselves as S&M.

    1. I figured I was leaving an opening for Jeff or EvKa with that one, Caro. I am glad you beat them to it!

  6. The U.S. launch was fascinating and fun. A great party celebrating another outstanding tale. "A Death in the Family" is captivating and emotionally charged. Bravo!

  7. Thanks for your support everyone! I'll leave it to Stan to explain the chicken!