This is a standalone by the writing duo of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollop, authors of the Detective Kubu series of novels. While the Detective Kubu novels often tackle serious and weighty subjects, they’re a touch more light hearted than Dead of Night. This is in part because of Detective Kubu himself, who never fails to bring a touch of humour to proceedings. Crys Nguyen, the Vietnamese-born American journalist who’s the hero of Dead of Night, is a more serious protagonist and thus the book is a more straight tale.

Crys is a local journalist aiming for the big time. When she learns that her friend Michael Davidson, a writer for National Geographic, has gone missing in South Africa, she is more than a little concerned. Michael was on assignment writing an article on Rhino poaching and Crys persuades the magazine to commission her to finish his piece so that she might go in search for him. So off Crys goes to South Africa, where she slowly discovers that Michael got more than he bargained for in pursuit of his scoop.

This is a novel on a mission, if that makes sense, the authors’ clearly having a message they want to tell and they convey it with urgency. They clearly care deeply about the plight of the rhino, which is endangered due to the the demand for its horn, an ingredient in Chinese medicines. Along the way Crys discovers the tensions between those who want the trade completely banned, and those that want it licensed (apparently rhino horn can grow back, so some estates carve horns off sedated animals), and this debate forms a backdrop to the wider conspiracy she tries to expose and foil.

Throughout the narrative Crys comes into contact with a variety of actors. There are the obviously bad – the rhino poachers and horn traffickers – but there are also many that she is unsure whether, and to what extent, she can trust. Estate managers, NGO workers, police officers – in third world countries where a black market trade flourishes which can make people millions, corruption and hidden agendas are always something she must consider. We’re never clear as readers who is on Crys’s side and who might betray her and this adds to the books tension.

The story travels the globe, principally from South Africa where the rhinos are poached, to Vietnam, Crys’s home country and where the horn is trafficked. The novel has a good sense of place, particularly the South Africa sections, the authors’ clearly being familiar with the country. The scene’s in the African bush are brought to life vividly as is the authors’ obvious affection for the rhino and African wildlife more broadly.

Dead of Night is a pacey and well-crafted story though I didn’t like Crys Nguyen nearly as much as the authors’ usual protagonist, Detective Kubu. I also struggled with the initial set up. Apart from Crys, nobody appeared particularly concerned as to where Michael had disappeared to; even his employers in National Geographic appeared quite sanguine and I’m sure in actual fact they would have been a little more alarmed by one of their star writers going missing.

That all said, this was a novel that kept me interested and it’s good to see an issue of such importance that doesn’t often make it into fiction featuring in a thriller such as this. The plight of the rhino is something that we should all be concerned with and if popular fiction can make people take note then that can only be a good thing.

James Pierson 3/3

Dead of Night by Michael Stanley
Orenda Books 9781912374250 pbk July 2018