This is the first of this writing duo’s novel’s I’ve read (Michael Stanley actually being the writing team Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip) and is a continuation of their successful series of novels to feature Detective Kubu and his squad. I must confess to having the earlier two novels in the series on my Kindle but not having got around to reading them yet. Based on Dying to Live, I will now certainly make the time. While it is a series, the book can be read as a standalone as I did, and works as a self-contained story.
Dying to Live begins with the discovery of an old Bushman, dead at the side of the road. Upon autopsy however it is discovered that the Bushman’s organs are far younger than they should be. While the Bushman is extremely elderly, the organs are that of a young man. Later the body is stolen from the mortuary while a local witch doctor dealing in muti that promises to make people live for longer goes missing. Kubu and a protégé of his, a Detective Samantha Khama, begin to investigate and soon find themselves involved in a labyrinthine case: An American anthropologist has gone missing, mysterious emails being sent to his wife; the boss of an American pharmaceutical company has hired a private detective to look for the anthropologist, who was hanging around with the now dead bushman; rhino horn smugglers, Chinese embassy officials, all are somehow drawn into the web. If all this sounds complex it is, but the plotting is deftly handled and the authors never lose their grasp of the multiple threads. It all comes together nicely in a finely drawn denouement. The characterisation of Kubu and his colleagues is also well handled.
On the front cover of Dying to Live is a quote from Peter James comparing the novel to McCall Smith (the author of the populr No1 Ladies Detective Agency series of books). Peter James says Michael Stanley’s novels have “a darker edge and an even darker underbelly”. While this is true, I found Dying to Live still a lot more upbeat than most other noir novels. Even though the novel touches on the use of human body parts in Muti (from what I gather, earlier novels in the series focus on this more) the book is not grim or a difficult read. And herein lies the problem for me. I like my books darker and more nourish. Sorry, that’s just how I like ‘em. So, while Dying to Live is a great book and well worth a read, it just didn’t pack the punch that I normally like.
That said, this is certainly a well written procedural with compelling characters. I certainly will make the time to read the earlier instalments and look forward to reading what the authors pen next.
4 out of 5 stars