Skip to main content

Top mysteries challenge review: The Steam Pig by James McClure

Year of publication: 1971
Series and no.: Kramer & Zondi, no. 1.
Genre: Police procedural
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: A fictional city in South-Africa, 1970s.

The clever murder of a young woman is discovered by accident and Lieutenant Kramer and his assistant, D.S. Zondi, are handed the case. They discover a number of surprises about the young woman, who had lived a double life, and the people who might have wanted her dead.

Review and rating:
This is the first book in a series featuring the unlikely but efficient detective team of Kramer and Zondi. The story takes place in Apartheid-era South-Africa and Kramer is an Afrikaner and Zondi a Zulu, which makes for a complicated, layered relationship. Kramer is careful to maintain an outward appearance of being a proper white supremacist, but when more closely examined the relationship between the two men is really one between a senior officer and a loyal junior one and clearly based on mutual respect and recognition of each other's talents and shortcomings rather than on racial status.

The story not only reveals a good, solid working relationship between a black man and a white man in a racially divided country, but it is also a stinging criticism of the prejudices, contradictions and miseries of Apartheid.

The story combines the hard-boiled violence and gritty realism of the noir genre with the conventions of the police procedural, and gives us characters that come alive in the telling and an exciting narrative full of gallows humour, clever twists, red herrings and other surprises. 4+ stars.

Books left in challenge: 97. This is not another miscount – I got Grisham's A Time to Kill from the library and was no more than a few pages in when I realised that I had already read it. The story came back to me in enough detail that I don’t find it necessary to reread it.

Awards and nominations: The CWA Gold Dagger, 1971.


Popular posts from this blog

Book 40: The Martian by Andy Weir, audiobook read by Wil Wheaton

Note : This will be a general scattershot discussion about my thoughts on the book and the movie, and not a cohesive review. When movies are based on books I am interested in reading but haven't yet read, I generally wait to read the book until I have seen the movie, but when a movie is made based on a book I have already read, I try to abstain from rereading the book until I have seen the movie. The reason is simple: I am one of those people who can be reduced to near-incoherent rage when a movie severely alters the perfectly good story line of a beloved book, changes the ending beyond recognition or adds unnecessarily to the story ( The Hobbit , anyone?) without any apparent reason. I don't mind omissions of unnecessary parts so much (I did not, for example, become enraged to find Tom Bombadil missing from The Lord of the Rings ), because one expects that - movies based on books would be TV-series long if they tried to include everything, so the material must be pared down

List love: 10 recommended stories with cross-dressing characters

This trope is almost as old as literature, what with Achilles, Hercules and Athena all cross-dressing in the Greek myths, Thor and Odin disguising themselves as women in the Norse myths, and Arjuna doing the same in the Mahabaratha. In modern times it is most common in romance novels, especially historicals in which a heroine often spends part of the book disguised as a boy, the hero sometimes falling for her while thinking she is a boy. Occasionally a hero will cross-dress, using a female disguise to avoid recognition or to gain access to someplace where he would never be able to go as a man. However, the trope isn’t just found in romances, as may be seen in the list below, in which I recommend stories with a variety of cross-dressing characters. Unfortunately I was only able to dredge up from the depths of my memory two book-length stories I had read in which men cross-dress, so this is mostly a list of women dressed as men. Ghost Riders by Sharyn McCrumb. One of the interwove

Icelandic folk-tale: The Devil Takes a Wife

Stories of people who have made a deal with and then beaten the devil exist all over Christendom and even in literature. Here is a typical one: O nce upon a time there were a mother and daughter who lived together. They were rich and the daughter was considered a great catch and had many suitors, but she accepted no-one and it was the opinion of many that she intended to stay celebrate and serve God, being a very devout  woman. The devil didn’t like this at all and took on the form of a young man and proposed to the girl, intending to seduce her over to his side little by little. He insinuated himself into her good graces and charmed her so thoroughly that she accepted his suit and they were betrothed and eventually married. But when the time came for him to enter the marriage bed the girl was so pure and innocent that he couldn’t go near her. He excused himself by saying that he couldn’t sleep and needed a bath in order to go to sleep. A bath was prepared for him and in he went and