Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mystery Book Review: The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu by Michael Stanley

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu by Michael Stanley. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu by Michael Stanley

A David "Kubu" Bengu Mystery

Harper (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0-06-125249-2 (0061252492)
ISBN-13: 978-0-06-125249-5 (9780061252495)
Publication Date: June 2009
List Price: $25.99

Review: Set in Botswana, Assistant Superintendent David "Kubu" Bengu is assigned to assist in the investigation of two murders at Jackalberry Camp, a tourist destination near the borders of Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Namibia in The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu, the second mystery in this series by the pseudonymous writing duo Michael Stanley.

Dead are the titular character, formerly of Zimbabwe, and Sipho Langa, of South Africa. Missing from camp is Ishmael Zondo, real identity unknown as he was in the country on a false passport, and now the prime suspect in both murders. Though they arrived in camp together, the two dead men apparently did not know each other and have no obvious connection to each other. The local authorities are quick to attribute the deaths to a drug deal gone badly. Kubu believes otherwise, especially when it's learned that Goodluck Tinubu was declared dead almost 30 years ago during a civil uprising in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. Another murder with links back to the camp focus Kubu’s attention on who was present at the time of the original murders, who he believes know more than they’re telling.

There is great appeal in the characters and setting of The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu, but it must also be said that the book is far too long for what is essentially a routine murder investigation; at over 450 pages in length, cutting a third or more would have greatly improved the pacing with no loss of continuity. True, there's a wealth of detail about the lush countryside, from vistas (“Kubu looked around. The view was spectacular. Water and islands stretched to the hazy horizon. Wild date palms poked into the sky, hosts to circling palm swifts, moving almost too fast for the eye to track. To the right, the mainland was covered with thick vegetation. Jackalberry, mangosteen, and birdplum trees dominated the scene, with an occasional mahogany spreading its heavy branches.”) to night-bush sounds (“There was a loud crack, and a tree descended to comfortable elephant-trunk level.”), that add interest and depth to the story, but there are also extended backstories about the political unrest of the area that are related to the plot but really contribute relatively little. Even the suspect interviews, which often bear a striking similarity to those conducted by Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, who no doubt heavily influenced the character of Kubu Bengu, are too long by half.

The least satisfactory element of the story, though, is the murder plot. The authors tease the reader with hints as to its complexity (“Zondo is not Zondo, and Tinubu died years ago. To all intents and purposes, neither exists. Makes solving a murder a little difficult.”), but most will see it for what it is. The murders take place on remote river island with limited access, yet it takes over 350 pages before Kubu ponders, and ultimately answers, the questions that should have been foremost on his mind when he first arrived at the murder scene: Why Goodluck Tinubu? Why Jackalberry Camp? Why now? Still, despite its length and rather weakly developed and somewhat derivative plot, The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu is an enjoyable mystery, a familiar story in a most unfamiliar place.

Special thanks to Susan Schwartzman Public Relations for providing a copy of The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu for this review.

Review Copyright © 2009 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved

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Synopsis (from the publisher): Two vicious murders, only hours apart ...

Normally a peaceful wilderness retreat, the Jackalberry bush camp has suddenly become a ghastly crime scene—and the details are still emerging when Detective David "Kubu" Bengu is assigned to the case. Zimbabwean teacher Goodluck Tinubu and another tourist have been found bludgeoned to death, while another guest at the camp—rumored to be a dissident wanted in Zimbabwe—has disappeared without a trace.

With the local police unable—or unwilling—to provide much assistance, Detective Kubu relies on his own instincts to track down those responsible for the crimes. But a startling piece of forensic evidence from Goodluck Tinubu's murder adds a complicated twist to the investigation, and Kubu must work fast to solve a seemingly impossible riddle before any more Jackalberry guests meet their death. Suspecting that everyone at the camp has something to hide, the wily detective from Gaborone sets a clever trap to find the truth.

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