Saturday, January 21, 2012

More James McClure on the way

I'd already known that Alan Glynn's Bloodland and Donald Westlake's The Comedy Is Finished were due in February. I now have in my hands Soho Crime's upcoming reissue of James McClure's The Sunday Hangman (1977), fifth of the late, great South African crime writer's eight Kramer and Zondi mysteries, and it's due on the 7th. February is the coolest month.

I've read four of Kramer and Zondi novels, and I know of nothing else like them in crime fiction. The writing sparkles with the wit and concision of the best traditional mysteries even though the subject matter is sometimes as dark as that of the darkest hard-boileds. The social criticism is of a deftness that Stieg Larsson could never have managed if he'd written a thousand books, and the sympathetic eye for character is something like Andrea Camilleri's.

It helps that McClure had a dramatic background against which to set his stories: apartheid-era South Africa. They pair a white Afrikaner police lieutenant (Kramer) and his Zulu assistant (Zondi), and McClure does not spare the reader the harsh words that swirl around, about, and sometimes between the two.

"Perhaps the most surprising aspect of McClure's apartheid-era novels to readers almost forty years later," I wrote after reading The Steam Pig, "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."

So I'm excited about The Sunday Hangman. Here are two few samples that ought to give a fair idea why:

"The veld all around them was as parched as an old tennis ball and much the same color."
and

"Tollie Erasmus looked at the room in which he was about to die, and saw there the story of his life. Nothing had ever turned out quite the way he'd imagined it."
Good stuff, ja?

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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9 Comments:

Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Peter, care to post larger segments of his text, so I can see why you're making a fuss of him.

I only recently became aware, through another forum, that they didn't have television in South Africa until 1976, due the ruling National (sic) Party considering it 'evil'.

I presume McClure's novels would reflect that

January 21, 2012  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

I'm not impressed by those quotes either.

January 21, 2012  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

I read The Steam-Pig back when I was trying to make my way through the Haycraft-Queen "definitive" list. I remember liking it, but didn't seek out any other titles at the time. Since I sort of collect (hoard?) Soho Crime titles, I might have to revisit McClure.

January 21, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kelly, he's worth a revisit. My favorite in the series to date is The Gooseberry Fool, and I've written about it and a number of McClure's other novels. Do a search for "McClure" on my blog to read what I had to say. I'd be happy to guide you to more McClure.

Or read what other South African crime writers have to say. Michael Stanley ranked McClure among the essential South African crime writers. The Stanley half of the team, Stanley Trollip, singles out The Song Dog. And Roger Smith paid McClure the homage of naming a character for Zondi.

I have not read The Blood of an Englishman or The Artful Egg yet. I think they are less highly regarded than the other Kramer and Zondi novels.

January 21, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCK, i didn't know about South Africa and television. But McClure's books are free of television references and influence, as far as I can remember.

The Sunday Hangman seems to be set around the time it was written. It was published in 1977, and the opening chapters include what I take to be a passing reference to the Soweto uprising, which happened in 1976. So the later books could reflect the presence of television.

As for longer passages, follow the advice I offered to Kelly. Search my blog for references to McClure, and read what I've had to say, including citations from the books.

January 21, 2012  
Blogger Stan Trollip (of Michael Stanley) said...

Peter, I'm delighted to see you keeping McClure on your pages. As you know I think he is terrific. TV only came to South Africa in 1976 because the National Party (the apartheid party) was worried that South Africans would see what the rest of the world was like. They didn't want South Africans to SEE Blacks and Whites being together, or to SEE that there were alternatives to political and religious conservatism. Obviously we in South Africa (at least those of us who had an opportunity to go to school and could read) knew about such things from books and newspapers, but the fear was what would happen if we SAW them.

January 23, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, great fear of the power of images ... a forerunner of all the fuss over Facebook and Twitter revolutions in the Arab world, it sounds like.

Stan, I rank McClure's achievements acievements among the high points of world crime fiction, and I think I first heard of him form you, so thanks. It must mean something that authors as diverse as you and Michael and Roger Smith respect McClure so much. Soho does the world a service by reprinting his books here.

Did anyone in South Africa in 1976 remark on the coincidence that what McClure has characters call "monochrome" television was known in much of the rest of the world as "black and white"? I imagine that South African wags of the time must have had some fun with this.

January 24, 2012  
Anonymous LeeCanuck said...

Not fiction, but also a great read by McClure is "Spike Island" portrait of Liverpool police station. "CopWorld" (same thing, same author but attempt to tap US market) was much less successful. I have long been a fan of Zondi and Kramer and friends from South Africa remarked that, when first released, these books were considered somewhat shocking.

January 25, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the note. I had known nothing of McClure's non-fiction books but their titles.

McClure's books were bound to be shocking to some. I read somewhere that one was banned in South Africa.

January 25, 2012  

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