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The Steam Pig (Kramer and Zondi Mystery #1)

3.6  ·  Rating details ·  284 Ratings  ·  44 Reviews

“James McClure's first novel arrives like a slam in the kidneys . . . a gripping style, real characters, and an exotic locale. . . . The Steam Pig will not only keep the reader's nose to the page, it will also make [him] think.”—The New York Times Book Review

In the debut mystery featuring Lieutenant Kramer and Detective Sergeant Mickey Zondi set in South Africa, a beautif

Hardcover, 247 pages
Published October 28th 1972 by HarperCollins Publishers (first published 1971)
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Sherry Schwabacher
Jan 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mystery-foreign
The Steam Pig showed up as an offering on Book Bub today and I realized I hadn't reviewed it when I originally rated it. I have to say I loved the whole series. The contortions that Apartheid forced Lieutenant Kramer and Detective Sergeant Zondi to adopt in order to work together were so unbelievable. The reader caught a glimpse of that evil system.
Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
Switched babies were standard intrigue a century ago, but this time we have switched bodies. One is an elderly beggar woman, the other a beautiful young blue-eyed blonde who isn't. How did it happen, why--and where are the mourners?

I wanted a change of pace and certainly got it with this novel. Written in 1970 and set in South Africa when apartheid was still in force, I'm sure some of the subtext escaped me. There were a few reactions and meaningful pauses that went straight over my head, but th
Rob Kitchin
Aug 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
Published in 1971 and winner of the CWA Gold Dagger, The Steam Pig is a police procedural set in South Africa. The book is noted for its depiction of apartheid in South Africa in three respects. First, its matter of fact depiction of how apartheid was expressed on a daily basis and how it structured social relations and led to distinct geographies. Second, the complex relationship between Afrikaans ‘Tromp’ Kramer and his Bantu Sergeant Mickey Zondi, which is infused with asymmetrical power relat ...more
LuluBelle Runjes
Dec 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
It was nice to go back a couple of decades and read a good old apartheid era thriller. Maybe not a thriller, really, but more of police procedural. Actually, having recently read Ian Patrick’s book Devil may Deal, which I really loved, I actually think I prefer this one by McLure in the early 1970s. Both books are gripping and exciting in their own way. Ptrick sets his in today’s world of post-apartheid politics, while The Steam Pig is set against a background of grand apartheid in South Africa ...more
Kamas Kirian
Feb 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: south-africa
A great little crime story about a white South African police Lieutenant and his black partner during Apartheid. I read this for the first time back in '91 after getting a copy of it from my aunt, and I remember liking it but I couldn't remember much other than the basic premise.

I find the apartheid era rather fascinating to read about, and this book was my first real taste of it. Kramer is pretty well developed, but Zondi is still just kind of the main side character to go along with all the o
Rodney Martin
Oct 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Just got my e-reader but before I really get going I feel I have to catch up by reviewing a whole lot of books that I read in the last few months, before I forget them all. Top of the list is James McClure's The Steam Pig. I read it years ago and then read it again recently. It won the CWA Gold Dagger award in the seventies and is relatively obscure, undeservedly. It is a cop procedural and is a fascinating look into the guts of apartheid South Africa. You can see life during that awful time in ...more
Maggie Heim
Mar 04, 2012 rated it it was ok
The book is the first in a series of mystery novels about a Afrikaaner detective and his Zulu partner during Apartheid in South Africa in the 1970s. I really wanted to love the book so I would have a new mystery series in a foreign setting like Jo Nesbo or Henning Mankell. However, I found the pace of the story slow and the twists and turns somewhat predictable. I could tolerate a slow plot if the characters were well defined and interesting. But I must confess that it is hard to get enthused ab ...more
Jul 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
McClure's Kramer and Zondi mysteries are great books. Set in apartheid South Africa, and featuring an Afrikaaner lieutenant (Kramer) and Zulu sergeant (Zondi), they explore the tensions inherent in South African society while also featuring compelling mysteries. As one might imagine, the racial issues--the classifications, their terrible social, legal, and practical effects, and the grotesque inequities of South African society--are always present. But McClure explores other tensions, too. For e ...more
Mar 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: suspense
A brief history lesson of apartheid that is hard to imagine today. Well worth the read. I’ll continue the series and learn more.
Apr 17, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to rabbitprincess by: Top 100 list
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Cathy Cole
Jan 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First Line: For an undertaker George Henry Abbott was a sad man.

In this first book in the Kramer and Zondi mystery series set in South Africa and originally published in 1971, a beautiful blonde has been killed by a bicycle spoke to the heart. The use of bicycle spokes as murder weapons is the signature of Bantu gangsters. Why would the Bantu kill a white woman in this manner? It's something that Kramer and his Bantu partner, Zondi, are going to have to find out.

This is a series that I've been m
Sep 25, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 16, 2010 rated it liked it
Set in Trekkersburg, a small unfashionable town just north of Durban, South Africa this police drama sets itself down smack dab in the middle of 1960’s apartheid. Bantu gangsters fill the town with crime which Kramer and his surprising side kick, Sergeant Zondi, a Bantu native get to solve. Zondi is able to get the other kaffirs to open up to him where they would not have to a white police officer and so the remarkable team gains a foothold on local crime.

The surprise we find in The Steam Pig is
Oct 14, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
My interest in the Zondi and Kramer series was in its setting. I wondered about the portrayal of two South African policemen, one white and one black, during the height of apartheid. Sad to say, this was pretty much a standard police procedural with little glimpses into South African society.

This is the first book in the series, so perhaps some of what I'm seeking shows up in later books. Zondi is very much a minor character here, so we get very little view of how an intelligent black man sees w
May 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
McClure writes with in an unapologetic style about life and death in South Africa in the 1970's. As with any story of South Africa, from this time, racism tends to take the center stage whether intended by the author or not. But, in this case the author does not preach, he reports, and you are left to judge.

The story twists and turns but is somewhat predictable none the less. The characterization is good, the telling of time and place is good as well. I found the shifts in point-of-view to be to
Eva Thieme
Nov 01, 2016 rated it it was ok
Not bad as a look back in time into the workings of the South African police force during the Apartheid era and the convoluted relationships between the races, but I must say the story was confusing, especially toward the end. I felt the author was sometimes too cute with the dialog, but perhaps that is just the different type of English he uses. I often had to go back and reread entire passages to make sure I understood what had happened. The ending, however, was puzzling and disappointing, and ...more
Maureen Evans
Dec 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Donald Schopflocher
Mar 22, 2016 rated it liked it
McClure used a quirky writing style, unusual words, clause orders, and phrases, sometimes explained sometimes not, else very coy explanations which often makes necessary the rereading a passage. The plot itself was rather easily unravelled. But the contortions required of a white-black partnership in apartheid South Africa, as well as the social restrictions forced on everyone are well presented and horrifying.

Added: A week has passed and I am still horrified by the racism and sexism that this b
David Pappas
Dec 12, 2016 rated it liked it
Fast paced easy read. Clever enough to keep my attention. The apartheid almost over the top “bad” message was not nearly as engaging. And now of course with apartheid gone, hopefully forever, it offers a glimpse to an entirely different kind of life and culture for the uninitiated. For that reason alone I can recommend it. Liked the fast paced action style of writing – something so few writers today seem interested in. Liked the stilted dialog. Was waffling on my review, for what reason I’m not ...more
May 11, 2016 rated it liked it
I was disappointed in this in that I thought there would be more insight into the relationships of the South Africans and the English during the transition period. The mystery presented was good and the handling of the case was fairly good, but the slang used was difficult to follow for those of us never having been exposed to that culture. It did not help in any understanding of the true tensions present as the English lost control of the area or any understanding of apartheid.
Mia Miller
A great and easy read, yet full of meaning. An original detective duo, a different world. Bantu killings, Colored ratings, racism.

I found McClure captivating. He has a great descriptive gift, he offers a lot, but always leaves you wanting more. His characters are alive, his towns are characters, and the dialogues are enticing.
Nov 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
An interesting read set in South Africa. White detectives w their black compatriots (kafir). A young white girl is found murdered by an accidental switch up by the mortician. The wrong body got sent to the crematorium. A bicycle spoke through the arm pit into the Aorta was the cause of death. Turns out the gal was black and it is against the law for interracial mixing.
Jan 24, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mysteries, library
A murder mystery set in Apartheid-era South Africa, recommended on twitter as insight into life under an authoritarian regime. The mystery is engaging and has good twists. I'll admit to having to google certain concepts in order to understand some of the minor plot points which relied on a familiarity with South African history/culture. Not a light read, but a worthwhile one.
Peter Brooks
May 17, 2012 rated it liked it
James McClure's detective books are set in Pietermaritzburg in Apartheid South Africa, featuring two policemen, Kramer and Zondi. The plots are OK, and the writing not bad, what is excellent, though, is how they capture the zeitgeist.

The relationship between the white Afrikaans Kramer, and the black Zulu Zondi is brilliantly explored. The town, too, appears almost as a character.

Ivan Izo
Oct 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
A great hard-boiled style detective story set in apartheid South Africa. Both place and time make for an interesting setting. The relationship between the detective and his black partner was different; alone they were equals, but with others around they had to pretend the white man was superior. I wouldn't mind reading more by this writer.
Jesse Kula
Aug 29, 2014 rated it liked it
Apartheid-era mystery novel, read as more research than anything. Some memorable lines and regional slang, good pacing, and plotting. As expected, characters static and prototypical (i.e. hardboiled, loner type, loyal companion that in this case is a kaffir so fascinating cultural dynamics at play). All in all, a worthy read if you are a fan of the genre, but nothing special.
Sep 08, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
A complex thriller with a nuanced portrait of apartheid. I'll read the rest that feature the intrepid (and brutal) Lieutenant Kramer and his Bantu Sergeant Zondi. This was published in 1971, and its style was clearly an influence on both Dennis Lehane and maybe even James Kelman (How Late it Was, How Late. At least, I see parallels.
Oct 09, 2013 rated it liked it
This was a decent read. Many parts were tough to get through and appeared to have no point in the story; until you get to the end, then it makes sense. I think it was more the structure of the content and the British slang that threw me but overall the story concept was intriguing.
Janet Williams
Very interesting comparing apartheid Africa and post-apartheid Africa. Definetly worth reading.
Good murder mystery with a whole lot of interesting history and politics worked in. Takes place in South Africa while apartheid was still in bloom.
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James Howe McClure was a British author and journalist best known for his Kramer and Zondi mysteries set in South Africa.

James McClure was born and raised in South Africa and educated in Pietermaritzburg, Natal at Scottsville School (1947–51), Cowan House (1952–54), and Maritzburg College (1955–58). He worked first as a commercial photographer with Tom Sharpe, who later wrote a series of celebrate
More about James McClure...

Other Books in the Series

Kramer and Zondi Mystery (8 books)
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  • Snake
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  • The Blood of an Englishman
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