James McClure, the author and journalist, is best known for the widely acclaimed Kramer and Zondi detective novels that subtly brought the reality of apartheid-era South Africa to an international audience. But he was also the author of two of the most perceptive postwar books about the inner workings of the police on both sides of the Atlantic, and a campaigning and independent-minded newspaper editor.
Born in Johannesburg and educated in Natal, Jim, as he was always known, worked as a photographer after leaving school. He then became a teacher in his home town Pietermaritzburg, where school plays were his start in creative writing.
In the early 1960's, he left teaching to become a reporter, first with the Natal Witness and then the Natal Mercury, and his crime beat soon took him to the dark side of what was happening in South Africa at that time. What he witnessed during this time was later to be reflected in his writing.
In 1965, married and with a young son, these experiences, along with friends being arrested for their political views, led him and his family to leave South Africa for a future in Britain.
After working at the Scottish Daily Mail in Edinburgh, he moved south to Oxford and began a 30-year association with the Oxford Mail and Oxford Times. Possessed of a ferocious work ethic, he combined a busy journalistic life and a growing family with the creation of one of the most successful detective partnerships in the crime novel.
The Afrikaner Lieutenant Tromp Kramer and the Zulu detective sergeant Mickey Zondi arrived on the scene in The Steam Pig in 1971 and duly won the Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger that year. Seven more Kramer and Zondi books, including The Caterpillar Cop (1972), The Gooseberry Fool (1974), The Sunday Hangman (1977) and The Artful Egg (1984) were to follow, as were other novels, including Four and Twenty Virgins and Rogue Eagle, which won him the 1976 CWA Silver Dagger.
He enjoyed the esteem of fellow writers and critics. Ruth Rendell called him a "great storyteller" and Susanna Yager said that "even his corpses seem more real than some other authors' living characters". In 2000, The Artful Egg was included in a list of 100 Best Crime Novels of the 20th century in the Times.
His attempts at writing scripts for film included a play in 1968, set in the tunnels of the Vietnam War entitled 'The Hole' ('Bedrock'), sold to Granada television but never made. In 1974, he adapted the Steam Pig for film, the South African production of which was started, but inexplicably later abandoned. Both scripts are included in the recently published eBook 'God it Was Fun', a collection of his short stories and scripts (2014)
Jim was not only interested in fictional cops. In the late 70s, he attached himself to the Merseyside police and won the confidence of the officers there so well that he was able to produce Spike Island: Portrait of a Police Division in 1980, a book that captured and humanized the police in ways that few such books ever do and stands up to re-reading 25 years later. He repeated the feat in San Diego, California, four years later with Cop World.
After a break from journalism, in 1994, he became the editor of the Oxford Times, which won the weekly newspaper of the year award under his leadership. He became editor of the Oxford Mail in 2000 and remained there until his retirement. He had a talent for spotting young journalists and championing causes, and was an accomplished cartoonist.
He tackled his ill-health over the last few years with characteristic dark humour, recounting tales of hospital visits with the same vivid attention to offbeat detail that characterized his writing. He planned to write a new novel set in Oxford, but ran out of time on 17th June 2006.