Tom Sharpe had shifted to South Africa and had worked as a social worker and teacher. The apartheid era inspired him to write 2 novels, and a play, one of the novels being Riotous Assembly. Like every phase of his life, this one too, resulted in the publication of a serious issue in the form of satire and mockery. However, it did not go down well, and he was arrested for sedition, and later deported to London in 1961.
The novel opens in a fictitious town by the name of Piemburg in South Africa. The police chief, Kommandant van Heerden, has risen to his current rank, only because of family connections. His work and merit leave much to be desired. So when this baboon of a Police Chief, who also happens to be pro-apartheid, is told to go an investigate a murder, involving a certain eccentric British lady by the name of Miss Hazlestone, there is bound to be some blow up.
It turns out that Miss Hazlestone has murdered or rather blown to smithereens her Zulu cook with an elephant gun. But since the murder was that of a Zulu and the one committing the crime was a British “white” woman, van Heerden seems it only fair to brush the entire matter under the carpet. However, when Miss Hazlestone divulges the fact that she and her cook were lovers, van Heerden panics. In his endeavors to try and contain the matter, he creates so much confusion that it all blows out of proportion on a nuclear scale.
He attempts to try and control the matter and also stop this news from spreading, by placing the lady, Miss Hazlestone under house arrest, and calls reinforcement to guard her, while he goes to try and make matters “better”. His assistants are stupider than him. When he posts the bloodthirsty but completely senseless Konstable Els as a guard outside Miss Hazlestone’s home with an elephant gun, Els manages to somehow kill over 20 police officers in his over exuberance to guard the house and its secret.
Not sure what to do, Els plants a wallet found nearby at the scene of the crime and then flees. The wallet turns out to be that of Bishop of Barotseland, Miss Hazlestone’s brother. He is then arrested and interrogated in a not so legal way, after which a trial is held and he is sentenced to death by hanging at the ancient gallows for a crime he did not commit.
Not a political novel, and a bit predictable, but yet, as always an entertaining read by Tom Sharpe. The book from the word go, puts light on everything that Sharpe found wrong in Apartheid South Africa. He uses all that and comes up with a story which is hilarious and yet a slap in the face of all racism, savagery, stupidities, juridical perversions and misunderstandings that took place in South Africa.