James McClure’s Snake (first published by Victor Gollancz 1975; Penguin 1977, 192 p.) is the fourth Kramer and Zondi collaboration in a series of eight police procedural novels set in Apartheid’s South Africa. In this novel, the Afrikaner police officer Tromp Kramer and his Bantu assistant Mickey Zondi continue as the unlikely but effective interracial duo that successfully investigates crime and solves the most complex cases. Two seemingly unrelated cases have to be solved in Snake. One involves the exotic dancer Eve who is found strangled in her dressing room with a dead python wrapped around her neck; this snake, which had been a steady part of her stage act, appears to be responsible for her death, but straightforward explanations fail when there’s forensic doubt about the woman’s hour of death. The other case is a series of local shop robberies that result in the murder of a popular shop owner in Trekkersburg’s black township. As the spoils in these robberies are low, Kramer and Zondi suspect they are not inspired by money. Both cases lead Kramer and Zombi to an investigation in the town of Trekkersburg and its surrounding area amongst Apartheid’s privileged and underprivileged classes. As usual, wry, ironic observations of Apartheid abound and allow the reader to get an inside view of its perverse politics:
“… Gilbert Littlemore turned out to be one of those ex-Kenya types who kept calling coons ‘Sambo’ and ‘nig-nog’ and other childish names. The sort who make Marais’ membership of the Nationalist Party seem ridiculous when they twisted apartheid to mean having polite servants and not separate development for all races—which was far more important to anyone who loved the country. Trust throw-out Englishmen to think that politeness was something you needed a policy to control” (McClure 1977: 83).
Lieutenant Kramer and sergeant Zondi manage to solve both cases, but not without Kramer’s life being endangered and saved by his subaltern African police officer.