Thursday, July 13, 2017

Biopiracy and greed

You could be forgiven if you thought this blog was going to be about unsavory people who steal other people’s credentials for monetary gain.
However, it’s not.  It’s about something much more interesting.
What would you do if someone came up to you and offered you a potion that would extend your life for an additional fifty or a hundred years and you would remain in good health?  You’d probably boot the snake-oil salesman out of the house.  But what would you do, if said salesman provided proof that his claims were valid?  Would you buy the potion now?
I would.  If I could be guaranteed good health, physically and mentally, for another fifty years, I’d jump at the chance.
Imagine too if you had the opportunity to corner the market for the ingredients of the potion.  People would beat a path to your door, with money in hand and fantasies in their heads.  It wouldn’t take very long before you’d be filthy rich.
However, others would also want to become rich like you.  Perhaps people not a nice as you.  What would they be prepared to do to get your information, your secret formula?  How far would they be willing to go?
Yesterday (Wednesday, July 12) was the publication date in the U.K. of our sixth Detective Kubu mystery, DYING TO LIVE.  As with our previous books, this too has a back story of current significance to Botswana and surrounding areas.  In this case, it is biopiracy—when an outsider steals a plant or animal from an indigenous group who had discovered its healing or other medical properties.

You can imagine the frenzy when a very old Bushman was found dead in the Kalahari Desert and his body sent for autopsy because he had a broken neck.  And the autopsy showed that this ancient man had the internal organs of a young man.  Even more puzzling was the fact that an old black-powder bullet was found embedded in an abdominal muscle with no sign of an entry wound. 
Had the Bushman found a plant in the desert that conferred longevity and had amazing healing capabilities?
Clearly something was going on, and unsavoury characters were interested in the profit potential.  Perhaps that’s why the Bushman’s body was stolen from the morgue.  Who was responsible?
Then a witch doctor, peddling life-extending muti (medicine), disappears.  What’s going on?
It’s left to Detective Kubu and his feisty protégé, Samantha Khama, to unravel the mess.  But not before Kubu is sorely tempted to use the muti for his ailing daughter.
Our wonderful publisher in the UK, Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books, certainly knows how to market.  During this launch month of July, she has arranged a blog tour—probably should be called a blog blitz—of over fifty bloggers who will read and review DYING TO LIVE.
As always, waiting for reviews is a scary time for authors, but so far, the reviews have been very positive.
Dee from Belgium had this to say in her blog Novel Deelights:
"I found the subject matter to be incredibly thought-provoking as we dive into the world of man’s insatiable urge and obsession to find ways to live longer, no matter the money or the means. Ultimately this is a story about greed and corruption, about healers and smuggling and its setting in Botswana works like a charm. This would quite frankly make an excellent tv series!"
The booksfromdusktilldawn blog said this:
 "This is very much of story of old meets new with a timeless thread that is always constant, one of greed and corruption where money can be made. But this story really throws a spanner in the works because it could hold a secret that all the money in the world couldn’t buy."
Victoria Goldman had this to say on her Off-The-Shelf blog:
"I can't recommend this series highly enough. This is sunshine noir at its best, with plenty of twists, turns and surprises. The next Detective Kubu book can't come soon enough."
Cheryl, in reviewing DYING TO LIVE, made an important observation in her Cheryl M-M Book blog: 
"Stanley delivers a vigorous read with a quirky, dominant set of characters and plenty of food for thought. It’s almost as if they want their readers to have fun whilst reading, but at the same time show them some harsh realities. Well, consider me shown."
I know this is a BSP blog, but I'll spare you the other 17 blog reviews.

The story that gave us the idea
A celebrated case of biopiracy in southern Africa revolved around 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.
Hoodia gordonii
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.  However, claimed it was difficult to synthesise and subsequently released the rights to the material. Unilever snapped them 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.
Hoodia is available today 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.  I guess it’s what you believe in.

DYING TO LIVE will be released by St. Martin’s in the USA on October 24 – ten days after Bouchercon!  We’ll kick off proceedings with a launch at Once Upon A Crime in Minneapolis on the 24th.

Murder Is Everywhere
Author Recognitions and Events


My next Hiro Hattori mystery, Betrayal at Iga, released on July 11 from Seventh Street Books. 

The next Detective Kubu mystery, Dying to Live, released in the UK on July 12 from Orenda books.


  1. Looking forward to reading the book. Are you coming to Toronto?
    It amazes me the folk who will spend hundreds of pounds on 'medicine' if it's 'natural', as if natural means safe or no side effects. Arsenic is natural!
    I wonder if Prosecco grows in the wild...

  2. Congratulations, M & S. You're Dying to Live and I'm dying to read it!

    1. I'm just dying. But then, aren't we all? It's the obvious condition of living. But hopefully my dying will be long, slow, not painful, and with plenty of Kubu along the way.