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.


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