Dispensing justice in a place like 1970s Rhodesia requires a mix of talent and accoutrement.
First thing you need is a gun. More than a few unsavoury characters about, and some menacing political rebels too.
A cool disposition toward stifling heat and professional scrutiny is handy. A cast-iron stomach, and a liking for the odd whisky or vodka, as well. No matter it might be illegal.
With a cast of witch-doctors, terrorists, fortune-tellers and crims to deal with, not to mention mandatory canings and clueless sentencing, your constitution better be pretty damn robust.
Magistrate Michael Neal does his level best to steady the reins across his bailiwick while fencing deftly with reckless and nasty colleagues, a haughty overseer and sensitive but ambitious juniors.
Author Terence FitzSimons is in his own briar patch, regaling the reader with horror stories of standover cops intimidating families with the severed limbs of their children. With moonshine drinking sessions over-proofed with the crushed and distilled mash of an aborted human foetus. With skin-crawling accounts of brutal canings and crooks with fevered dreams of setting him to rights.
Think women speaking in tongues, con artists, porn exhibitions, bloody knifings, prisoner dagga plant deals, assaults with bricks, boozy prayer meetings, gut-churning autopsies, illegal game hunters, naked door-knockers, klepto teachers …
It takes all types to keep a court running in the Rhodesian Midlands town of Gwelo but Michael Neal’s your man.
FitzSimons, with a clutch of historic tomes under his belt – and his clever Anglican priest Fr Michael Gale’s foray into war-torn Rhodesia in Nkosi as well – keeps a steady hand on the tiller throughout this entertaining judicial romp.
As Your Worship Pleases: Tales from a Magistrates’ Court in Africa. By Terence FitzSimons, Mirador.