And, of course, through intense loyalty on the job, to each other and to their principles. And that explains why those who discover the McClure series are likely to become passionate followers, disappointed when they've consumed all eight books. (McClure died in 2006. He'd been a photographer, then a teacher, then a crime reporter.) The books won the Crime Writers Association (CWA) Silver Dagger and Gold Dagger awards. Soho Crime has been quietly bringing them to the US, and THE SUNDAY HANGMAN debuts in paperback in February.
The book opens with the unexpected death of a lifelong criminal named Tollie Erasmus. When Lieutenant Kramer hears that Erasmus committed suicide, he's frankly incredulous. Why would Tollie Erasmus hang himself, when he's got thousands to live on and has eluded South Africa's penal system? Because of the powerful class divisions in South Africa, and the multiple languages that go with them -- Afrikaans and English on one side, Bantu and other "native" languages on the other -- Kramer takes Mickey Zondi with him to investigate the rural death. And with Doc Strydom riding along, it's soon clear that the death is murder, not suicide.
But Doc Strydom pulls more out of police and court records, in a search to justify his outspoken decision on the death, and soon Kramer and Zondi are making multiple trips among Johannesburg, Durban, and the little rural hamlet of Witklip, trying to find points in common between this fresh death and other disturbing notes in the files.
This is a lively and compelling read, as well as a reminder of how desperate the apartheid situation was, so recently. The blatant and crushing racism of that time shows up in even the smallest casual conversations in THE SUNDAY HANGMAN, although McClure weaves it deftly into the narrative within a paternalism that feels a lot like a Kipling story. But the dangers of the racial prejudices show up in crimes and their investigation, and McClure spins a good tale.
Here's the entire series with its original release dates:
The Steam Pig (1971)For a good overview of the past fifty years of mysteries set in Africa (and published in English), try this article from Verna Suit at Mystery Readers International (2010).
The Caterpillar Cop (1972)
The Gooseberry Fool (1974)
Rogue Eagle (1976)
The Sunday Hangman (1977)
The Blood of an Englishman (1980)
The Song Dog (1991)
From the review article, I was reminded that Henning Mankell's book The White Lioness (1993) is set in South Africa, as is Suzanne Arruda's Jade del Cameron series. I'm also a fan of a modern-day South Africa series by Jassy Mackenzie: Random Violence (2010), Stolen Lives (2011), and due out in April of this year, The Fallen (watch for more on that title later).
If you've been reading the Botswana series by Alexander McCall Smith, featuring the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, you'll find the McClure series more gritty and challenging. But underneath the two series is the same love of place, people, and the possibility of justice.