Monday, March 26, 2012

South African Crime Fiction: James McClure, via Soho Crime

Excellent news: Soho Crime is just a few weeks away from releasing number seven of the eight James McClure "Kramer and Zondi" investigations, originally published from 1971 to 1991. Embedded in the years of apartheid, the series features the Afrikaans officer Lieutenant Tromp Kramer and his partner in detection, Bantu Detective Sergeant Mickey Zondi. While the restrictions of color line and racism fence the pair's actions on a daily basis, their clever and accepting working relationship and mutual respect (as close to friendship as such a pair can come, considering the one-way direction of their social structure) allows McClure's neatly plotted crime fiction to include warmth and affection.

THE BLOOD OF AN ENGLISHMAN contrasts the poverty and filth of bottom-tier criminals with the hard-working poverty of the Bantu detective and his family. At the same time, it pits Lieutenant Kramer's genial womanizing against the cruelties that many of the wealthy exert. Opening with the shooting of one former RAF pilot and the killing of another, with the same weapon, the novel also portrays the women in the detectives' lives as insightful and supportive. That's quite a contrast to, say, Mrs. Digby-Smith, whose car "boot" turns out to have her own brother's body in it. Or Mrs. Bradshaw, carefully ignoring the criminal bent of her husband and grown son.

McClure's best skill is adding small details that bring scenes into perspective, painting both the South African social structure and the stresses of human life that can lead to crime. I especially like this revealing bit from the end of an interview Lieutenant Kramer's been holding with "Jonty," English owner of a beauty salon, about the life of Mrs. Digby-Smith's brother, affectionately nicknamed "Bonzo":
"If your lads are staying on, I don't mind," agreed Jonty. "But I think in return you might let me in on a few of the details, pal. What was Bonzo robbed of, for instance?"

"His life," said Kramer.

The beer can crumpled in the Englishman's hand like a plastic cup. "You're pulling my leg," he said slowly.

"Not really. He was found shot through the head about an hour ago, trussed up like a fowl in the boot of his sister's car."

Jonty dropped the crumpled can into his waste-paper bin. Then he opened a desk drawer, took out a perfume atomiser, gave a puff into his mouth, making himself cough, and sprayed a lot more of the stuff over his chest and shoulders, smothering the smell of hops. "I must be getting back," he said, holding open the door. "You really are a right bastard, aren't you?"

"Tip of the iceberg," said Kramer, and winked at the red-head on his way out.
This is the second James McClure re-publication from Soho Crime this year -- the earlier one, in February, was The Sunday Hangman -- and this one releases April 17. So there's time to pre-order a copy and catch up on at least one of the earlier titles in the meantime; McClure's Wikipedia listing puts them nicely into perspective.  We're glad to have a growing collection of McClure here at Kingdom Books (click here to see the listings and order). What a pity that McClure died in 2006 -- so we'll never have more than the eight Kramer and Zondi investigations to enjoy.

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