DEATH OF THE MANTIS – Some Background On A Fantastic Book

DEATH OF THE MANTIS, the third book in the Detective Kubu series by Michael Stanley, was released on September 6, 2011.  The first two books, A CARRION DEATH and THE SECOND DEATH OF GOODLUCK TINUBU, are engrossing mysteries written in elegant language that teach about a part of the world that is less well known than it should be.  On May 5, 2011, Stan posted “Death of the Mantis” on his blog, Murder Is Everywhere.  As with so many very good books, the core of DEATH OF THE MANTIS is based on fact.  In this post, we get to meet Stan and Michael and we learn about the Bushmen of the Kalahari.


Death of the Mantis

This week I am going to indulge in some BSP (blatant self promotion, with ‘self’ in this case referring to two people) and tub thumping.
World launch at Love Books
After a prolonged gestation period, the third Detective Kubu mystery, Death of the Mantis, saw the light of day late yesterday afternoon at a delightful independent bookstore in Johannesburg called Love Books.  As evening fell, wine and snacks appeared, and a large group of well-wishers and fans gathered around to listen to Michael and me in conversation with a well known wine writer, Neil Pendock.  It’s amazing how patient, long-suffering, and supportive friends can be.
Eventually everything ran out – snacks, wine, energy, and even books!
Michael, Neil Pendock, and Stan at Love Books
Then it was time for the two author to relax, so we joined Neil Pendock and the small group who had made the whole event possible, from Jonathan Ball publishers and Love Books, for a wonderful dinner.  Michael and I both had foie gras.  Michael followed with lamb chops, I with roast duck.  All washed down with a variety of fine wines and eventually grappa – except for me because I was the designated driver and sipped 4 quarter glasses of wine and no grappa.
Michael and Stan at Bay Books
This blog is late (apologies) because I have just returned from the second launch event (it is nearly 1 am), this time in Cape Town at Bay Books, where we were interviewed by the excellent South African mystery writer, Mike Nicol.  Guess what?  Another dinner after the launch.  And tomorrow the scene repeats itself at the lovely Kalk Bay Books, where we will be interviewed by Sarah Lotz, a very funny writer.
Death of the Mantis is set in the southern Kalahari of Botswana, initially in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park near Mabuesahube, then slightly further north around the small towns of Tshane and Hukuntsi.  The back story of the book is the plight of the Bushman or San people, who are amongst the oldest groups on the planet.
In 1995, during a severe drought in Botswana, four Bushmen came across an unattended ox.  Desperately hungry they killed it for food.  The next day, another Bushman came along and asked about his ox.  Shortly after, he too was dead.  The four Bushmen were arrested and eventually only Maauwe and Motletwa were charged and found guilty of murder.  They were sentenced to death.  Part of the evidence led against them was their signed confessions.  Unfortunately their court appointed lawyer failed to challenge these in court, which he could easily have done since they were written in Setswana, which the Bushmen barely understood, and certainly couldn’t read since they were illiterate.  The two also claimed that they were beaten by the police and that they never made confessions.
In the run up to an appeal, Maauwe and Motletwa asked some people who routinely visited their prison to write a letter to the court requesting a competent attorney.  The letter was sent but new attorneys were not appointed and the letter never surfaced at the appeal.  The death penalty was approved.
A Botswana human rights organization, Ditshwanelo had followed the case and had tried unsuccessfully to obtain clemency for the two.  By chance, Ditshwanelo heard about the impending execution a mere three days before they were scheduled (January 16, 1999) and were able to obtain a stay of execution based on two constitutional challenges.  As Ditshwanelo dug into the case they complied a large amount of evidence documenting the unfairness of the trial.  And in October 1999 the High Court declared a mistrial.
The High Court, however, gave the prosecution the opportunity to re-open the case.  Five years later, the case had still not been brought to court.  Again Ditshwanelo went to the aid of Maauwe and Motletwa, who had now spent 10 years in prison with being convicted.  The High Court again intervened and granted the two Bushmen immunity from prosecution.
As you can imagine, Bushmen do not have a favourable opinion of the Botswana police or courts – an opinion that has been reinforced by a number of other actions by the Botswana government over the past ten years.

In Death of the Mantis, When a Kalahari ranger is found dead in a dry ravine, his corpse surrounded by three Bushmen, the local police arrest the nomads.  Botswana’s Detective ‘Kubu’ Bengu investigates the case and is reunited with his old school friend Khumanego, a Bushman and advocate for his people.  Khumanego claims the nomads are innocent and the arrests motivated by racist antagonism.  The Bushmen are released, but soon after, another man is murdered in similar circumstances.  Are the Bushmen to blame, or is it a copycat murder?

Then there is a third murder.  Again it points to the Bushmen.  Kubu journeys into the depths of the Kalahari to find the truth.  What he discovers will test all his powers of detection – and his ability to stay alive…
[Stage direction: 7 beats on the timpani; dramatic music]
Michael and I like Death of the Mantis the most of our three books, and we hope the reading public do so too.
Thank you for your indulgence.
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