Science, math – and African adventures

Michael Sears – one of the first PhDs to graduate from Flinders University in the early 1970s – has emerged from a successful career in South African academia to become an author of a popular series of eight crime thrillers set in Africa.

The Detective Kubu mystery series, published under the pseudonym Michael Stanley with his good friend and co-author Stanley Trollip, has been extensively translated and sold around the world including Australia, with the latest Facets of Death released this month.

Both authors are retired professors who have worked in academia and business with Dr Sears a mathematician specialising in geological remote sensing and Dr Trollip an educational psychologist specialising in the application of computers to teaching and learning, and a pilot. They were both born in South Africa.

Emeritus Professor Sears grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa and in Kenya until his family moved to Adelaide in 1965.

After graduating from the University of Adelaide in 1968, he completed a PhD in mathematics in 1972 at the recently established Flinders University.

After returning to South Africa, he became a lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg – later to become Dean of the Faculty of Science in 1986.

“It was a stressful time as the university tried to preserve what little multiracial status the government still allowed,” he recalls. “As tensions escalated, student demonstrations – usually broken up by the police – became the norm.

Michael Sears, one of the first PhDs to graduate in math at Flinders University (1972).

“As the Dean of the Faculty of Science, I focussed on creating a science bridging program for students disadvantaged by the apartheid school system.”

In 1997, he joined mining conglomerate Anglo American to manage the remote sensing section, focussing on research and development of hyperspectral imaging for exploration and environmental monitoring.

After retiring 10 years later, he rejoined Witwatersrand University in computer science.

“By then the university was fully multiracial, and the demographics of the student body reflected those of the surrounding province,” he says.

A keen traveller, particularly in southern Africa, he’d regularly join his good friend and pilot Stanley Trollip on trips to their favourite destination, Botswana.

“On one occasion, we watched a large pack of hyenas kill and consume a wildebeest bones and all.

“Over some wine, we joked about it being the perfect way to eliminate a murder victim – no body, no case!

“Many years later that idea led to our first Detective Kubu mystery, A Carrion Death, published under the pseudonym Michael Stanley.

“It was translated into French, Italian, and German, and shortlisted for a number of prizes for best debut mystery.

“We’ve published six more Kubu mysteries and a stand-alone thriller all of which are available in Australia.”

Dr Sears says he now lives in Knysna, a small coastal town in the Cape, still writing and working on image processing research with a colleague as an honorary professor.

“It’s been an interesting career –academic, science manager, and fiction writer. Amazing where life takes one!”

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