Thursday, October 19, 2017

Dying to Live – Greed and Biopiracy

Michael & Stanley - Thursday

What would you do if someone came up to you and offered you a potion that would extend your life for an additional fifty or a hundred years and you would remain in good health?  You’d probably boot the snake-oil salesman out of the house.  But what would you do, if you hear about it such a way that you’re convinced that it may actually exist? And suppose you had the chance to get your hands on it and keep it for yourself and the people you chose to sell it to for whatever you asked? What would you be willing to pay or do for that chance? But you have competition. Perhaps people not a nice as you.  What would they be prepared to do to get your information, your secret formula?  How far would they be willing to go?


Next Tuesday (October 24) is the launch date of our sixth Detective Kubu mystery, Dying to Live.  As with our previous books, this too has a back story of current significance to Botswana and surrounding areas.  In this case, it’s biopiracy—when an outsider steals a plant or animal from an indigenous group who had discovered its medical or other valuable properties.
You can imagine the frenzy when a very old Bushman was found dead in the Kalahari Desert and his body sent for autopsy because he had a broken neck.  And the autopsy showed that this ancient man had the internal organs of a young man.  Even more puzzling was the fact that an old black-powder bullet was found embedded in an abdominal muscle with no sign of an entry wound. 
Had the Bushman found a plant in the desert that conferred longevity and had amazing healing capabilities?
Clearly something was going on, and unsavory characters were interested in the profit potential.  Perhaps that’s why the Bushman’s body was stolen from the morgue.  Who was behind that?
Then a witch doctor, peddling life-extending muti (medicine), disappears.  What’s going on?
It’s left to Detective Kubu and his feisty protégé, Samantha Khama, to unravel the mess.  But not before Kubu is sorely tempted to use the muti for his ailing daughter.

***

The book was launched to great reviews in South Africa and the UK, so we’re delighted that the US reviewers like it too.
In a starred review, Library Journal’s verdict was: “Stanley once again mixes strongly developed characters, puzzling plot twists, and a textured African setting in an international police procedural with heart and soul that will appeal to fans of Kwei Quartey and Alexander McCall Smith.”
Aunt Agatha’s newsletter said: “This wonderful series only continues to get better. Weirdly, I also think it may be one of the more realistic police procedural series around, as the careful, detail oriented work carried out by Detective Kubu and his fellow officers seems like what painstaking police work may actually resemble. Detective Kubu is also immensely appealing—his happy family life, his love of food and wine, and his leaps of deduction that come while napping (very Nero Wolfe of him) make him one of my favorite characters in mystery fiction at the moment.”
Kirkus Reviews commented: “The sixth installment in Stanley’s franchise…is the best yet, with both an ingenious mystery and a deeper and more textured depiction of modern Botswana and Kubu’s piece of it.”
Finally, in a starred and boxed review Publishers Weekly said: “David “Kubu” Bengu, an assistant superintendent in the Botswana CID, investigates a particularly baffling murder in his sixth, and best, outing…Stanley keeps the intriguing plot twists coming.”

The story that gave us the idea


Hoodia gordonii
A celebrated case of biopiracy in southern Africa revolved around the Hoodia plant, an unattractive succulent of the Kalahari, whose woody material has been used by certain Bushman groups for centuries as an appetite suppressant on their long hunts and travels through the desert.
The story started when South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) spotted the possible value of such a compound in the western world, where people eat too much and are trying to cut down their calorie intake. In 1972, they analyzed the plant for an active ingredient and came up with one they named P57. They then engaged in a joint venture with a British pharmaceutical company that managed to isolate the ingredient.  However, thy claimed it was difficult to synthesize and subsequently released the rights to the material. Unilever snapped them up and reportedly spent ten million pounds on trying to develop a weight-loss drug from it.
Meanwhile, various groups had mounted a campaign to ensure that the Bushmen received compensation for their indigenous knowledge that had led directly to what could be a bonanza. Amid accusations of biopiracy, the CSIR was forced to respond and set up a royalty arrangement for the Bushmen.
The story didn’t have a happy ending. Unilever cancelled the project. Trials hadn’t shown significant weight loss, and had indicated a variety of side effects. The game wasn’t worth the candle. The Bushmen got nothing.
Hoodia is available today as a ‘dietary supplement’ (hence avoiding regulatory tests), and the industry is worth millions of dollars, yet there’s no scientific evidence that it does any good, and at least anecdotal evidence that it can do harm.  I guess it’s what you believe in. And that’s part of the new Kubu story too.

***

Below are the details of our book tour for Dying to Live. We’d be delighted if you would join us at one of the events! (Okay, that’s it for BSP blogs this year. Normal service will be resumed next Thursday.)

October 24, 7:00pm. 
Dying to Live launch
Once Upon A Crime
604 W 26th St
Minneapolis MN 55405
(612) 870-3785
Discussion and refreshments

October 25, 4:30pm - 6:00pm
Totally Criminal Cocktail Hour (still a few tickets available)
The Dock Café
425 Nelson St E, Stillwater, MN 55082
Admission by ticket only – contact Valley Bookseller at (651) 430-3385

October 26, 7:00pm
Mystery to Me bookstore
1863 Monroe St, Madison, WI 53711
(608) 283-9332
Free registration at 
Eventbright or by calling the store

October 27, 6:00pm to 8:30pm
Aunt Agatha’s
213 S 4th Ave # 1A, Ann Arbor, MI 48104
(734) 769-1114
Dinner (6:00pm) and discussion (7:00pm).
Please contact the store beforehand for details

October 30, 7:00pm
Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore
7419 W. Madison Street
Forest Park, IL  60130
(708) 771-7243
Discussion and refreshments

November 1, 7:00pm
Barnes and Noble
2100 Snelling Ave, St Paul, MN 55113
(651) 639-9256
7:00pm.  Discussion

November 4, 10:30am.
Mystery Lovers Bookshop
514 Allegheny River Blvd, Oakmont, PA 15139
(412) 828-4877
Coffee and Crime

Monday, October 16, 2017

Chickens fly the coop

The chickens flew the coop in Paris. Poulets - a common term for the police and not pejorative  - have left the island of Ile de la Cité, departing their nest at 36 quai des Orfèvres. The Prefecture has been the police judiciare's home for aeons built on the former medieval chicken market, hence the name even today. The PJ is the direct successor of the Sûreté, which was founded in 1812 by Eugène François Vidocq (a thief turned policeman) as the criminal investigative bureau of the Paris police. The Sûreté served later as an inspiration for Scotland Yard, the FBI and other departments of criminal investigation throughout the world. Here's a view from the roof...kind of hard to leave, non?

 An angel guarding the roof of Saint Chapelle and Notre Dame two blocks away.

One of the infamous doorways into the Prefecture. In its modern form, the Parisian PJ was created by a decree by Celestin Hennion, the then préfet de police and father of the elite mobile police units called Brigades du Tigre. Unique for their time, they were created with the support of Georges Clémenceau, who was nicknamed "le tigre" - the Tiger.
The PJ has of late September moved to the Batignolles neighborhood, in a new building shared with the Tribunal de grande instance, Paris's main tribunal (which has moved also from it's former adjoining Court complex on the island). However, for years this move has been criticized because of its cost and the historic status of the 36 which holds the hearts of those who worked there. It's been immortalised in Simenon's books of Inspector Maigret, and so many films.
Built in the 1870's, worse for wear, with it's steeped worn stairways grooved over time, tiny offices and smoke patina'd walls, officers were jammed into offices and cubicles, the attic held scene of crime garments where the blood dried, you found the labs in the basement - where they tested for counterfeit money, the vaulted room of cabinets withfiles upon files of fingerprint cards. Even units overspilling in modulars on the old cobbled courtyards.
The police moved pretty much lock stock and smoking barrel to new quarters. Only leaving the RAID group - big men in black - to
remain at 36 quai des Orfèvres. RAID's the elite Police Special Forces unit of the French National Police.
 Here's the RAID brigade having coffee next door to the grand Tribunal. I think they got to stay because big guys like these who do Counter-Terrorism work and Hostage recovery situations like to rule their own bit of the roost.
Plus, the old Prefecture is in the heart of Paris and RAID teams need to access quickly. You can see the arrondissement with a 1 which is smack dab in the centre. At the very edges of the 17th arrondissement is the Batignolles location and new 'nest' -
Map of Paris with it's 20 arrondissements.
“This was a move that had to happen, the building has never been adapted to our work," said Claude Cancès, a former director. "When we were on the third or fourth floor, one had the impression of being in an old rusted ocean liner. But, it was a mythical place, all the officers dreamed of working one day at the Crim’. In a little more than 100 years, the building saw a lot of Paris pass between its walls, among them the biggest criminals in France. Serial killers Dr. Petiot, Guy Georges and Thierry Paulin have climbed the famous 148 steps.
"It's the end of an era," said Jean-Claude Mules retired head of Brigade Criminelle who oversaw the Princess Diana investigation. "That was my life, so much of it, and part of my youth...it's gone." He'd attended the leaving fête, but hadn't been to the new HQ yet...why? I haven't been invited. He let out an old man's sigh. Maybe he doesn't want to visit. So far the news about the new 'nest' has been sparse and guarded. Patrick, who I hung out with in a Saint Germain café last November is a Brigade Criminelle inspector and says he's so busy getting used to the place.
Seventeen hundred people work there and there are only three elevators. An incident happened and it took the brigade too long to get to central Paris with traffic. Of course, there was the usual complaint...a member of the brigade had fumed  - no cars were available and they were stuck out in the new Prefecture.
Geographically it's at the edge by ring road in northwest Paris designed by a famous architect. One officer said, "The new building is modern, but it has no soul. It looks like a hospital. “
What do you think?
But let's time travel back to November when I visited 36 quai des Orfèvres on Ile de la Cité and the chickens were in the nest.
Here's another view from the roof
Here's a glimpse underground with the former cells - the DEPOT,  police booking desk, and souriciere the ancient tunnel leading from the cells to the Tribunal.



What will happen with 36 quai des Orfèvres? It's prime real estate, full of history and no doubt, ghosts.
Cara - Tuesday

Limericks for Mental Health: Bouchercon Hiatus


Annamaria on Monday

Fun!

For many years now, I have written limericks to let off steam. Perhaps the rigidity of the form forces me into a more logical place in my brain, which would be very helpful when I am about to go over an emotional cliff. Limericks have been a source of glee and groans and, I think, sanity in our house since my husband and I got together. Though he was always a classy man and often hilarious at the higher levels of humor, there ran beneath his quick wit an indomitable sophomoric streak, often fueled by the limericks he memorized in his youth. Those included many I cannot publish here. According to Wikipedia:

“A limerick is a kind of a witty, humorous, or nonsense poem, especially one in five-line anapestic or amphibrachic meter with a strict rhyme scheme (AABBA), which is sometimes obscene with humorous intent. The form can be found in England as of the early years of the 18th century. It was popularized by Edward Lear in the 19th century, although he did not use the term.

The following example of a limerick is of unknown origin.

The lim'rick packs laughs anatomical
In space that is quite economical,
But the good ones I've seen
So seldom are clean,
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.”



 Here is one of David’s unclean favorites that (with two small changes) I think I can safely include.  He recited it whenever anyone mentioned the woman’s name:

There once was a woman named Harriet,
Who dreamed she made love in a chariot
With seventeen sailors
A monk and two tailors
Dick Cheney and Judas Iscariot



David and I once won a limerick contest. We were traveling in Wales and stayed at a hotel that had once been a castle. The hotel staged a fake medieval dinner each evening in which, in addition to eating lamb stew with one’s fingers, the guests were invited to submit a limerick to a contest. The first line was given.  The weekend we were there, the required first line was: “A Squire with a hole in his shoe.”

The wittiest Brit wrote took second place with:

"A Squire with a hole in his shoe
Invented a substance called glue.
The source was a horse.
He boiled it, of course,
And the smell killed a family in Crewe."

But to the great surprise of all, David and I – two Yanks, no less – took first place with this little ditty:


"A Squire with a hole in his shoe
Was badly in need of a screw.
With his tool in his hand,
He scoured the land,
But decided a small nail would do."

A few years ago, while renovating our apartment, an architect appointed by the building management was delaying our simple project for months and running up his bill, which we were required to pay.  It was costing me sleep as well as lucre. While I lay awake at night fuming, I preserved my sanity by writing a cycle of twelve limericks describing how an architect by that SOB's name destroyed every great building project in history.  I give you one stanza of my poem, concealing his identity by substituting the words “Sir Note:”




To span an English river of renown,
“Let’s build London Bridge,” decreed the Crown.
But then enter Sir Note,
Who declared and I quote,
“If we never put it up, it can’t fall down.”

By the way, I gave him a Spanish-i-fied  moniker and killed him in my second novel—Invisible Country.  That character, Ricardo Yotte’ is so hideous that it is almost impossible to figure out who killed him, since everyone in the village wanted to.

Not all my limericks have been pejorative.  Some celebrated my friends—their birthdays, their achievements.  But I wrote my favorite one just for fun.  Here is my proudest limerick achievement:



In the subways of Paris, his home
This elf forever will roam.
So if you hear “Tick tock.”
Don’t think it’s a clock
Undoubtedly, it’s Metro Gnome.


I should apologize, but I can’t. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Bouchercon Hiatus: It's Those Pesky Greek Gods Again.


Jeff--Saturday 
 
During Bouchercon week we’re picking posts from among our favorite blogs of the past. I find it impossible to choose which I “like the most,” so I’m taking the easy way out and going with what our readers continue to favor more than any other of my posts. It's a compendium of three posts on the Greek Gods titled, “The Gods Will Be Back,” “A Visit With The Gods,” and “Greece’s Sun and Moon God Twins: Apollo and Artemis.” 
 
So, here they are, three visits with the gods, back to back:
 
I long for the day when the mention of Greece will once again first bring to mind ancient gods, epic tales, and a land and sea infused at every inch with the seminal essence of western civilization.   Someday that will happen, for financial crises are transient and gods are immortal, though not eternal—after all, they do need nectar and ambrosia to sustain them.
 
Ahh, yes, the good old days of true Greek gods quick and strong, knowing all things, capable of miraculous achievements.
 
It’s been a long while since I’ve read up on the ancient gods, and I must admit to often getting them mixed up, but I’ve just learned that my confusion puts me in illustrious company. 
Socrates (469-399 B.C.E.)
According to Alexander S. Murray’s Who’s Who in Mythology, even Socrates was confused by the varying number of seemingly same gods (one Aphrodite or two?) and multiple names for one god (Zeus in summer was called Zeus Meilichios, the friendly god, and in winter Zeus Maemaktes, the angry god).
 
Some think that’s attributable to disparate early Greek tribes who even after coalescing as a single race kept the original names for their separate gods despite obvious similarities to each other (Dione, Hera, Gaea, and Demeter). 
 
But call them what you wish, the essential purpose of the Greek gods was the same: their existence and interactions explained to mortals the natural order of things, e.g., the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, the clouds, lightning, thunder, earthquakes, storms, waves, and on and on as needed.  
 
What made Greek gods so significant was that the essentially human form of the Twelve Olympian Deities of Mount Olympus and of the lesser gods living in other environs gave to those who worshipped them the sense that their deities could understand and relate to a mortal’s needs and fears. 
 
The mythological explanations offered by the carryings on of the gods largely centered upon the three supreme rulers of the world: Uranos, Kronos, and Zeus. 
 
The first to rule was Uranos.  He represented the heavens and, as the husband of Earth, brought forth life and everything on our planet.  
 
Uranos with Earth
His son, Kronos, ruled next as god of the harvest, ripening and maturing the forms of life brought forth by his father. 
 
Kronos and Rhea
And, lastly, ruled Zeus, bringing order and wisdom to the universe. 
 
Zeus overthrows Kronos (Van Haarlem 1588)
I think it’s safe to say that Zeus hasn’t been around for a while.  Or has he? 
 
Whatever, all of this impresses me, as it should every writer, artist, and musician who freely borrows from the tales of the gods in their own creations, albeit sometimes consciously oblivious to the source of their inspiration.  So much of what we think unique to modern culture is simply a new way of retelling of what ancient Greeks witnessed in their deities. 
 
I wish I had time now to say more.  But there will be later.  One must always make time for the gods.
***
Zeus
I’ve often wished there were a way to journey back to the heyday of the ancient Greek gods.  Just to drop in, say “Hi,” and ask what they think of our current times.  These days I’d likely have to make the trip alone, because my Greek buddies—make that all of Greece’s eleven million souls—have more than enough all-knowing, all-powerful forces to contend with in the form of the EU-IMF-ECB troika, plus a hundred-fold that number of homegrown politicians governing their country as if immor(t)als.
 
This, though, isn’t about current events; it’s about my interest in visiting Olympian deities and, in particular, one called “father of gods and men, ruler and preserver of the world, and everlasting god.”  In other words (courtesy of Alexander S. Murray’s Who’s Who in Mythology), I’m talking about the boss man himself: Zeus. 
 
But before I wave goodbye and click those ruby slippers together (couldn’t find a reasonably priced pair of Hermes sandals), let me share a little background on how Zeus got to be Numero Uno.  And for you Wizard of Oz aficionados out there, don’t worry about Dorothy’s shoes whisking me off to Kansas instead.  I have it on the highest authority they’ve been re-programmed to route me to the otherwise inaccessible, cloud-shrouded Olympos of Thessaly.
 
Zeus’ upbringing certainly wasn’t what most normal folk would call traditional, unless of course you happen to be a fan of the Dr. Phil sort of stuff inhabiting weekday afternoon American TV. 
 
To begin with, his daddy (Kronos) and mommy (Rhea) were brother and sister.  But since his grandparents were the original paired begator (Uranos) and begatee (Gaea) of what love, via Eros (Cupid), had fashioned out of Chaos (the great shapeless mass at the beginning of the world) to prepare the world to receive mankind—that might be considered an extenuating circumstance under modern consanguinity laws. 
Eros and Chaos (by Treijim)
Besides, it was a substantial improvement over his grandparents’ marital arrangement.  Uranos, the husband of Gaea, was not her brother.  He was her son.  And when Uranos “mistreated” their children, Gaea sided with her son/grandson (Kronos) to destroy her husband/son (Uranos).  Got that?
 
But it gets better.  Zeus’ father (Kronos), alert to how children could treat their fathers, swallowed his first five children as they were born.  Zeus, the sixth child, only escaped because his mother (Rhea) deceived her husband/brother (Kronos) into thinking Zeus, too, had been swallowed. 
Kronos (Saturn) by Francisco De Goya
When Zeus reached manhood he enlisted the aid of his grandmother (Gaea) to convince his father (Gaea’s son/grandson) to yield up Zeus’ siblings, which Kronos did.  One was Zeus’ sister, Hera (Juno), the love of Zeus’ life … and later his wife.  Like father like son, I suppose.
 
Zeus had many affairs and fathered many children, at times in rather unorthodox fashion, but Hera was his only wife, as was the way in Greece.  Some say Zeus didn’t gallivant around as much as people liked to think, but gained his reputation innocently through an historical accommodation.  When the disparate tribes of Greece came together as one race, each brought with them their own Zeus stories, and all those separate tales were incorporated into one mythology that multiplied Zeus’ fathering experiences far beyond what any individual tribe had believed on its own.
 
If Zeus got Hera to buy that story, it’s good enough for me.  
Hera with Zeus
By the way, let’s not forget that all this played out for Zeus against the time of man on earth. 
 
At the beginning of Zeus’ rule it was the Silver Age of the human race.  Men were rich, but grew overbearing, were never satisfied, and in their arrogance forgot the source to which their prosperity was owed.  As punishment, Zeus swept the offenders away to live as demons beneath the earth.
 
Then came the Bronze Age, one of quarreling and violence, where might made right, and cultivated lands and peaceful occupations faded away.  Ultimately even the all-powerful grew tired of it all and disappeared without a trace.
 
The Iron Age followed with a weakened and downtrodden mankind using their bare hands to toil for food, thinking all the while only of themselves, and dealing unscrupulously with each other. 
 
Zeus had seen enough.
 
He brought on a flood that destroyed all but two members of the human race.  A husband, Deukalion, and his wife, Pyrrha, were spared and commanded by the gods to propagate a new human race upon the earth. 
Pyrrha and Deukalion by Andrea di Mariotto del Minga
That, folks, is supposed to be us. 
 
If I recall correctly, Zeus didn’t think much more of the new batch than he did of the ones he’d wiped off the face of the earth. 
 
But this is 2017, and the human race is so much different now than it was in Zeus’ day that we have absolutely nothing to fear from the big guy for the way we live our lives today. 
 
Right? 
Hmmm.  I really can’t wait to get going.  Honest.  But time travel these days isn’t as predictable as it once was (what with all those amateurs clogging up the astral planes) and I’d sure hate to pop in on Zeus on a bad day.  God(s) knows where/how I’d end up. 
On reflection, I think I’ll put those slippers away for now—at least until after the elections. Which elections, you ask?  Good question.  I’ll wait for a sign from the gods on high and let you know.
***
 
It’s hard when you watch a sunset on Mykonos not to think of the island of Delos less than a mile away to the west. 
After all, Delos is where Apollo, god of the sun, and his twin-sister, Artemis, the original divine personification of the moon were born to their mother, Leto, out of her assignation with Zeus.  Delos wasn’t Leto’s first choice for a delivery room, because back then it was little more than a rock bouncing around the Aegean Sea.  But she had little choice because Zeus’ wife (and sister), Hera, had the world fearing her jealous wrath, and only tiny Delos saw nothing to lose in making a “You take care of me, I’ll take care of you bargain” with Zeus.
Birth of Artemis and Apollo to Leto
From the moment of Apollo’s birth, when golden light flooded down upon Delos, the island prospered, so much so that it rose to emerge as one of antiquity’s bastions of commerce and religiosity.
But Apollo didn’t stick around his birthplace very long.  Jealous Hera drove Leto away from her children forcing Apollo to grow up quickly—in a matter of hours to be precise (on a diet of nectar and ambrosia)—and begin a pilgrimage that launched his myth, one of the oldest of all Greek myths and one of the few of entirely Greek creation (as opposed to foreign influences).
Although Apollo’s exploits gave rise to his being known by many different names and titles—Karneios, Hyakinthios, Pythios, Thargelios, Nomios, Delphinios, Ismenios, Hebdomeios, Lykios, Musagetes, etcetera—they all in one way or another derived from his link to the eternal operation of the sun and all that the ancients attributed to it.
In much the same way Apollo’s sister, Artemis, found that the qualities attributed to the moon—bringing fertility to the earth through cool, dew filled nights and casting light into the dark night offering protection to flocks and hunters—had her identified with those traits (fertility, hunting) and called by names and titles linked to those perceived powers of the moon: Agrotora, Kalliste, Diktynna, Britomartis, Eleuthro, Orthia, Limnaia, Potamia, Munychia, Brauronia, Amarynthia, etcetera.
Adonis and Artemis
As a duet, Apollo and Artemis might be best known for a bloody, Bonnie and Clyde-style episode brought on by an affront to their mother (and them) by the daughter of a king who boasted that her own children were “more beautiful” than Leto’s.  Talk about perturbing the wrong folk.  Artemis and Apollo promptly punished the prideful mother (Niobe) by slaying all of her children, Artemis by arrows the daughters, and Adonis by arrows the sons.  In her anguish the mother turned to stone.
 
On the off chance I’ve written something that a buddy of those Delosian twins might find offensive, please don’t come looking for me.  You’ll want to talk to Alexander S. Murray who wrote Who’s Who in Mythology.  It’s his book that’s responsible for driving this post…so help me gods.
—Jeff