Contribution

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

With the procedurals that develop the Tromp Kramer-Mickey Zondi partnership, James McClure fashioned a neutral portrayal of South African apartheid society as seen from within. Amassing much historical and cultural information in the course of his exposition, characterization, and plot, McClure nevertheless maintained a carefully guarded distance from any direct, judgmental commentary. Indeed, McClure claimed that “the neutrality of the crime story” is the primary appeal of the genre. Of the South African novel, he said, “Every novel . . . that I’d come across . . . had been self-limiting . . . in that its antiapartheid slant made it appeal only to the ’converted.’” By guarding the neutrality of his novels, he believed that he can “leave people to make their own moral judgments.” Seeking to appeal universally to his readers, McClure considered his first obligation to be entertainment, “leaving graver matters—which [can] be included, but obliquely—to those with the time, money, and intellectual capacity to indulge them.”

Although conscious of his craftsmanship and the psychological complexity of his characters, McClure made his procedurals hew closely to the facts of daily existence under apartheid, so that the culture and place, evoked even descriptively, are integral to his success as a crime novelist. That McClure’s readership included not only mystery devotees but also international antiapartheid activists and academic literati as well as the South African police attested his achievement of neutrality without compromising the serious, socially significant framework of his novels. McClure’s Kramer and Zondi novels are taught in creative writing courses at the college level in the United States.