I’d like to say I met the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip on safari. In truth, we were driving around Pittsburgh, looking for a wonderful (now defunct) author event sponsored by the (still there!) Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, PA. I had long been a fan of “Michael Stanley,” though, and their leisure-loving (but astute) Detective Kubu. How nice to reconnect at a a party given by the team’s new publisher, Sourcebooks/Poisoned Pen, then – and to catch up on Kubu, too!
How does a book start for you?
Usually one of us gets an idea that intrigues the other. Then we get together and brainstorm, producing a very rough outline of how the book will start and where it will head. Although we live in different cities, we usually try to get together to do this, maybe in Botswana or on a book tour. After that one of us will kick off with a first draft of the first couple of chapters and we’ll see where it goes from there.
Who in your latest book has surprised you most – and why?
Oddly, it was our protagonist, Detective Kubu. Kubu means hippopotamus in the local language, and that describes him well. Very large, overweight, but also dangerous if he’s on a case. The new book, Facets of Death, is about Kubu when he’s a new detective, and we found out several things we didn’t know about him. He was smart all right, but also had a lot to learn both about detective work and about dealing with people—especially women. His character was rather different from the more mature and senior detective of the later books. Some of that was unexpected. We know him better now. And we still like him a lot!
When and/or where is your latest book set and is there a story behind that setting?
Facets of Death is a prequel, set around twenty years ago. When we wrote our first novel, Kubu wasn’t supposed to be the protagonist. He was supposed to be a minor character—a policeman sent out to investigate a murder. He climbed into his car with sandwiches and cassette tapes of his favourite operas, and headed out. It’s a long drive to where the body had been found in the middle of the Kalahari Desert, so he had plenty of time to think. One thing he mused about was how a Bushman school friend had shown him how to see things in the desert that were invisible to most people. That was the spark that made Kubu want to become a detective. By the time he reached the scene of the crime, he’d taken over the story and demanded to be the protagonist. We were both very surprised!
As Kubu developed over the series, we learned more about his school and family life, but really nothing about how he became Botswana’s ace detective. That was not only a gap in his background, but also in his character. So we decided to write that story, starting with his first day at the Criminal Investigation Department.
What are you working on now?
Our publisher is delighted with the prequel, and is keen to develop it over a few books as almost a new series. At the moment, we have ideas for another two books around the young Kubu.
Which question didn’t I ask you that I should have?
What are two white men in South Africa doing writing about a black detective in Botswana?
We know Botswana well in various ways and love the country and the people there. We think we know the culture well enough to represent it realistically. And it’s useful setting our books outside South Africa, so we’re not always having to deal with the aftermath of apartheid. That way we can explore contemporary issues important to the broader region—issues like blood diamonds, the plight of the San (Bushman) peoples, and the growing Chinese influence in southern Africa. In Facets of Death it’s the concept of a huge diamond heist that could shake the Botswana economy.
Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip write under the name Michael Stanley. Their award-winning mystery series, featuring Detective Kubu, is set in Botswana, a fascinating country with magnificent conservation areas and varied peoples. The latest book in the series is a prequel, titled Facets of Death. It starts the first day Kubu joins the Botswana CID, and he’s immediately thrown into solving a violent heist of rough diamonds from Jwaneng—the world’s richest diamond mine.
Their latest thriller Shoot the Bastards introduces Minnesotan environmental journalist Crystal Nguyen. Set mainly in South Africa, it has as backstory the vicious trade in rhino horn.
Michael has lived in South Africa, Kenya, Australia and the US. He now lives in Knysna on the Cape south coast of South Africa. Stanley splits his time between Minneapolis and Cape Town.