The Gooseberry Fool (Harper&Row 1974, F&F 1993, 192 p.) is James McClure’s third in the Kramer and Zondi series of South-African police procedurals. The novel starts out with the Afrikaner Hugo Swart being murdered upon coming home the evening before Christmas. As Swart is well respected in the community and faithfully attends church, the reasons for his murder seem nothing but profane: the collateral consequences of a burglary gone wrong. Suspicion automatically falls upon Swart’s black servant, Shabalala, who has escaped to the countryside. Zondi engages in his pursuit, which gives McClure the opportunity to describe the poverty and squalor in South Africa’s black townships. Kramer soon finds reason to pursue more complex trails in the investigation, as he notices the crime scene’s evidence has been tempered with. The discovery that Swart was in fact working for South African intelligence gives a major twist to the plot.
In the early 1970s, James McClure developed one of the most successful detective partnerships in South African crime fiction in a series which features 8 novels unveiling to national and international readership the harsh realities of Apartheid—the institutionalised social, political, economic and geographical segregation of ethnic groups according to artificial racial definition. The personal and professional dynamics between the Afrikaner Lieutenant Tromp Kramer and the Zulu detective sergeant Mickey Zondi play out in the limits of the socially admissible under Apartheid, but they are, as investigation after investigation proves, the key to the successful resolution of a wide range of murder cases. As Kramer states in The Caterpillar Cop, “Our job requires us not to make any assumptions based on class, color or religious belief” (1972: 22), thus confirming that, though self-critical, theirs is definitely a male world. The dry humour that permeates their disentangling of all sorts of criminal plots and ploys provides the necessary distance for the reader to recognise the structural ambiguities in McClure’s description of Apartheid, and to wonder to what extent it confirms or subverts racism.