the song dog

Title: The Song Dog (Kramer and Zondi #8)

Author: James McClure

Reader: Steven Crossley

Category: Mystery- Police Procedural

Audio published: April 23, 2013 by AudioGo (First published 1993)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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Purchase: Amazon | IndieBound | Book Depository

The year is 1962. Young Lieutenant Tromp Kramer of the Trekkersburg Murder and Robbery Squad has been ordered up to Jafini, a small, dusty town in northern Zululand, to investigate the “hero’s death” of the town’s chief detective, Maaties Kritzinger––another Afrikaner maverick, and one with many secrets. Kramer finds himself increasingly identifying with the victim as the investigation proceeds. And then his path crosses that of Bantu Detective Sergeant Mickey Zondi, who is trying to locate a multiple killer whose summary execution will quiet the spirits of his ancestors. Despite the racial differences, the two men sense a kinship…one that might prove dangerous in rural South Africa in the year of Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment.

The Song Dog by James McClure is as much about the South Africa in the early 60s as it is the mystery, which I found fascinating. Officially, this is #8 is the series, but it’s actually a prequel, showing how Kramer and Zondi, the pair who anchor the series, first met, so it stood alone well for me.

Setting: I don’t know much about South Africa, either now or during Apartheid, but McClure did an excellent showing hos the segregations and attitudes affected every day life, but it’s done matter of factly. It’s a part of their lives, not right or good, but true. Kramer recognizes Zondi’s intelligence and helpfulness, but he’s still Bantu and therefore not fully a partner. Zondi, though, was raised in a mission where the children were taught that all people are equal. I think the setting is why I’ll read more of the series, what makes it stand out from other mysteries.

It’s was disconcerting to see how the Bantu people were treated, and how the women were regarded. It actually took me a while to get used to it, even though I knew it was appropriate for the setting.

Main Characters: Kramer is an Afrikaner, a bit of a loner. He’s the type of detective who tends to know better than his superiors and isn’t afraid to show it. He enjoys women. If you read detective novels, he’s kind of a standard character with a South African twist.

Zondi shows up early in the book, but as a mysterious potential suspect. (That might be a little bit of spoiler, sorry.) He’s a bright young man who is good at knowing when and how to speak. I can see how he and Kramer make a good team, neither are conventional.

I can’t say this is a funny book, but there are definitely amusing spots. Both Kramer and Zondi have a dark sense of humor.

Plot: There’s a lot going on here. Kritzinger dies in an explosion, but it’s not clear if he was the target or the young woman who lived in the house. Kramer has to look at both possibilities. There are several suspect and a lot of red herrings, which keeps the mystery interesting. I didn’t know who the culprit was until Kramer figures it out.

Reader: Crossely did a good job giving each character his own voice and his own cadence that I appreciated. It’s funny though, sometimes I got confused on what language they were speaking. Obviously it’s all written in English, but Kramer and his co-workers spoke Afrikaans and looked down on English speakers. Zondi’s native language is Zulu and he does use it occasionally as do some of the other characters. I know it would ruin the flow of the story, but I wish it could be clearly who was speaking what when. I haven’t had that experience with books often, but language seems to really matter here. It’s one of the many ways the groups are distinguished.

Recommendation: Give this one a listen. I enjoyed it.

Kramer and Zondi Series

  1. The Steam Pig
  2. The Caterpillar Cop
  3. The Gooseberry Fool
  4. Snake
  5. The Sunday Hangman
  6. The Blood of an Englishman
  7. The Artful Egg
  8. The Song Dog