"You were born in the Cape?"Not bad for a first novel, I'd say. It must be passages like that that moved a contemporary reviewer to call McClure "a writer of great skill and humanity."
Her scornful laugh brought his head up sharply in surprise.
"Why do you people always think coloreds are all born in the Cape?"
Again, that curious overreaction on her part.
Kramer's ballpoint hovered, ready to set the date down. But the pad slid unheeded from his knee a moment later.
"And I was born white," Mrs. Francis said. "We were all born white. The whole family. And we lived white, too."
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of McClure's apartheid-era novels to readers almost forty years later is the blend of breezy banter in the English style with acute portraits of the period's ugliness. The result may shock today's more sensitive readers, at least American ones, but I call it an impressive achievement.
Here's one example:
The Colonel was flattered.Here's another, the opening of the novel's second chapter:
"Put it this way, Lieutenant—I never allow a wog to touch my delphiniums," he said.
A suspect in the next room screamed. Not continuously, but at irregular intervals which made concentration difficult. Then the typewriter unaccountably jammed. The report was not going to be finished on time.
That's good stuff, and more damning than a straightforwardly angry polemic would have been.
The Steam Pig won the CWA Gold Dagger for best novel of 1971. Read about the second Kramer and Zondi novel, The Caterpillar Cop, here. Read more about South African crime fiction at Crime Beat, and browse the table of contents and selected articles from Mystery Readers Journal's Spring 2010 issue on African mysteries. Finally, read this touching obituary of McClure, who died in 2006.
McClure was born in Johannesburg and educated in Pietermaritzburg, seen by many as the model for his fictional Trekkersburg. He moved to Britain with his family in 1965. Here's an intriguing footnote from Wikipedia's article about the Kramer and Zondi series:
Perhaps inevitably the books received lukewarm reviews in his home land. The mystery of McClure's Trekkersburg mysteries: Text and non-reception in South Africa Peck, R; English in Africa; May95, Vol. 22 Issue 1, p48, 24p© Peter Rozovsky 2010