Thursday, November 8, 2018

Police stations we have known

Michael - Thursday

Stan and I have been launching Dead of Night in South Africa, and that often raises questions about settings and sense of place. I talked a bit about out choices here last month. But I'm still wondering how much the setting affects the story and how much is the other way around. Even the police stations have an impact.

Baboons on Kgale Hill
A Carrion Death was set in several places, but Gaborone was the pivot. Kubu hangs out in an office at the the headquarters of the Criminal Investigation Department in the Millennium Park complex west of the city.  Characterless, it's surrounded by parking covered by shade-cloth that loses a daily battle with the sun. It's a newish building and encroaches on the base of Kgale Hill which is about the only bit of topography in the area.  When researching the book, we visited the director of the CID there on a Saturday, but went back for another sortie around the area on Sunday.  We were delighted to see that a troop of baboons had come down from their haunts in the rocky cap of Kgale Hill and taken over the area around the CID. They were sorting through bins and any other items of interest left as the human tide went out for the weekend. It seemed a wonderful metaphor for the juxtaposition of old and new in Africa. One we were not able to resist bringing into the stories. On several occasions Mabaku worries about what they might do to, or on, his car as he looks out of his office window.

The Linyanti where much of our second book takes place

The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu is set up north. The Kasane police station also has an interesting feature. Kasane lies on the confluence of two major rivers – the Chobe and the Zambezi. It's also at the meeting point of four countries – Botswana, Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe - clearly not an entirely comfortable location these days. However, the town is thriving with fancy modern hotels overlooking the broad Chobe river and packed with tourists taking trips into the Chobe National Park a short distance away.  Built on the site of the old prison, a modern multi-story building houses the police. The architect took care to design it in such a way that two ancient baobabs could be preserved. Both are hollowed out with once locking doors that allowed prisoners to be held within the tree itself. One tree for the men and one for the women. No more than two in each at a time one hopes! You can climb in, but it’s not a very comfortable or salubrious place to spend any time. We were shown around the inside of the police station - including the modern prison cells - but nothing was as interesting as the baobab prison.

The semi-arid country of the Kalahari  

Ground Hornbill
Our third book, Death of the Mantis, was set in the Kalahari desert part of Botswana, so we made the acquaintance of the police there. As usual they were charming and helpful. Tshane is a small village in the heart of the southern Kalahari. It has neighbours of the same type: Hukuntsi – the “commercial centre” sporting a petrol station and guest house, Lehututu – named after the cry of the Ground Hornbill, and Lokgwabe. The villages are there because of the usually dry salt pans which provide subterranean water. The only police station for the group of villages is at Tshane. Unlike the usual Botswana police building, this is an old style colonial one-story dating back to the days of British rule - the Bechuanaland Protectorate. It has the prime site in town: overlooking one of the salt pans. We were told it is the second oldest permanent police post in Botswana. Obviously someone thought this area would grow. Perhaps the old building survived because it didn’t.

The View from Tshane Police Station

Tsabong police station features in the same book
The next three Kubu books take place in Gaborone, Mochudi, and Ganzi. Dead of Night is set in South Africa, Geneva, and Vietnam. But I must admit that we haven't visited any Vietnamese police stations. Maybe just as well!


  1. Our old police stations are of Victorian design and still standing. The dreadful concrete boxes of the '70's are now falling down and being replaced by glass construction that look like hotels.
    With no cops to be seen anywhere!

  2. New York City's old police headquarters (used until 1973) looks as if it were part of the Vatican. It's since been converted into luxury condominiums. The City's modern police headquarters looms as a vertical brick and glass grate.