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Riotous Assembly (1971)

by Tom Sharpe

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Piemburg (1)

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9381017,672 (3.81)17
Offering all the qualities of his general bestselling fiction, this is Tom Sharpe's blazing satire of South African apartheid, companion to Indecent Exposure.
  1. 00
    Candide by Voltaire (eclt83)
    eclt83: Witty satire of the society
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English (9)  Dutch (1)  All languages (10)
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
This is the first of Tom Sharpe's two novels set in South Africa. This is a very funny book. It is very perverse and zany fun.

The book begins with the murder of a black house wroker by a member of a prominent English family in the city of Piemburg. Enter the police. There is Kommandant van Heerden, who wants nothing more than to be English, Konstabel Els, who is renowned as a killer of blacks, and Luitenant Veerkramp, who is one of the slimiest and wiliest characters in the Piemburg police force. A routine police investigation turns into an armed confrontation between the unwitting members of the Piemburg police force, while van Heerden is unwillingly seduced by the murderer he is investigating. These are just a few of the hijinks that ensue as the police's irrational actions keep making the situation worse.

This book is excellent because Sharpe is able to expose the irrationality of apartheid and the actions of the authorities to keep this practice going. After reading this book, there is little wonder in my mind why Sharpe was expelled from South Africa in the '70s. ( )
  reenum | Nov 1, 2020 |



Sidesplitting, rib-tickling, rollicking. Riotous Assembly was my first exposure to Tom Sharpe. As I was reading I asked myself: who does this author remind me of? Then it hit me. Of course! None other than Mad Magazine’s maddest artist, Don Martin. I mean, take a look at the above illustration for this Tom Sharpe novel and the two Don Martin cartoons below. No doubt about it – Tom Sharpe and Don Martin share much of the same outrageous, over-the-top, darkish, rubbery sense of humor.

Don Martin was my absolute favorite back when I was a kid. I gobbled up all his gleeful slapstick. So I suppose it is no surprise I took an instant liking to wacky, waggish Tom Sharpe. However, I certainly can appreciate such zaniness and imbecility, frequently dark in the extreme, is not for everyone. As one British critic commented: “If getting a taxidermist to stuff your grandfather and blowing up a neighbor’s house by pumping gas up his lavatory pan are your taste in jokes, then Mr. Sharpe is your man. If not, not.”

A bucketful of differences, obviously, between a panel cartoon and a novel but I so wish Don Martin worked on an illustrated edition of Riotous Assembly with its scathing satire revolving around South African apartheid, torture and executions complements of a police force and lurid sexual perversions complements of an old lady. Instant collector’s item.

But probably not a collector’s item in South Africa, at least among government officials back in 1971 when the novel was first published since Tom Sharpe got himself kicked out of the country some years prior for his anti-apartheid writing. Also worth noting, Riotous Assembly is the first of two novels targeting South African society, the country’s police force in particular, Indecent Exposure the second. In years thereafter, Tom Sharpe took aim at English society.

Back on Riotous Assembly. We’re in small, sleepy Piemburg, a South African city described by a visitor from the US as “Half the size of New York Cemetery and twice as dead.” Because so much of comedy is bound up with individual personality, author Tom treats us to an entire lineup of screwball characters. Oh, yes, even sluggish, slumbering Piemberg has its share. Among their number:

Kommandant van Heerden: Bumbling incompetent chief of police, stanch supporter of apartheid South Africa and lover of England and all things English. He’s at the mansion of wealthy English heiress Miss Hazelstone to deal with a sticky situation: the frail old lady admits to using a quadruple-barreled elephant gun to blow her colored cook Fivepense to smithereens. As she also reveals, Fivepense was her lover for the past eight years.

The Kommandant gives the necessary orders to hush up such a society-shattering, preposterous revelation, after all, the honor of Piemburg is at stake. If van Heerden only knew he would soon be stuck in a sticky situation of his own, as in dangling from a second story window, handcuffed to a bed, wearing a rubber mask and woman’s nightgown. Loony? Deranged? Welcome to the world of Tom Sharpe.

Konstabel Els: An absolute expert in operating his Electrical Therapy Machine to extract confessions. “His natural aptitude for violence and particularly for shooting black people was only equaled by his taste for brandy and his predilection for forcing the less attractive parts of his person into those parts of African women legally reserved for male members of their own race.” Just the man to guard Miss Hazlestone’s estate under van Heerden directions to shoot to kill. Els takes his job seriously, relishing every blast from his rifle. The result: 125 dead police. Good going Els! Now the Kommandant has a true catastrophe on his buffoonish hands. He might even be demoted.

Luitenant Verkramp: After receiving his orders from Kommandant van Heerden, this conscientious police officer leads an army to Miss Hazelstone’s estate, complete with a column of lorries and armored cars as well as signs announcing Bubonic Plague and an outbreak of Rabies. Unfortunately, Konstabel Els will take him for an enemy of the state. Or, is that enemy of the estate? In either case, Verkramp and his army will not return in one piece, and that’s understatement.

Sergeant de Kock: Exactly what is needed at the home of Miss Hazelstone – another officer of the law. As author Tom Sharpe writes: “The Sergeant was by no means a squeamish man and not in the least averse to shooting women. Plenty of Zulu widowers could attest to that.” As soon as the Sergeant arrives on the scene he lets off a volley from his gun aimed at the sky that results in his being covered in the feathers and guts of a very well-fed vulture (recall all those dead police). And there’s more high jink and horseplay afoot for the Sergeant, enough that, a the very least, he stands a good chance of getting shot himself.

Miss Hazlestone: Would you believe this little old lady orchestrates a reenactment of a decisive battle between a redcoat English infantry and Zulu warriors on the parade-ground of an insane asylum where hundreds of mental patients, black and white, participate with great enthusiasm? After all, what’s the harm since the all those hopped up Zulus are armed with only rubber spears. Wait a minute – those spears might be real! The spectators for this event could be in store for a bit of bloody bloodshed with all the crazies turned loose on one another. Is there anybody in the house not completely nuts?

Jonathan Hazelstone, Bishop of Barotseland: The fall guy. It's not long before the Bishop is being marched out to the gallows to be hanged. And to think, his execution could be part of well thought out plan to take his healthy English heart as a transplant for someone who truly needs it: none other than the one and only Kommandant van Heerden. The ups and downs, mostly downs, of Jonathan are among the more hysterically funny parts of the novel.

From The Guardian: "Sharpe was keen on the idea of both writing and reading as fun." After reading Riotous Assembly, I certainly concur.


British novelist Tom Sharpe, 1928-2013

"'It's someone who dresses up in rubber nighties and hangs out of other people's bedroom windows soliciting people below.' continued the Sergeant plucking feathers and lights off his uniform. 'It's also a product of the permissive society and as you all know South Africa is not a permissive society. What this swine is doing is against the law here, and what I suggest is that we shove a bullet or two up his arse and give him the thrill to end all thrills.'" - Tom Sharpe, Riotous Assembly



( )
  Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
I usually try to find something good to say about a book that I have read. It was difficult with this novel by Tom Sharpe. The book is humorous for about one chapter and the rest is downhill as the satire becomes so heavy-handed that is loses its effectiveness. The rest of my review must of necessity be a litany of problems. From the lack of character development to a plot that is notable only in its weakness this novel is a bit of a disaster.

I spent several weeks in South Africa in the late seventies and I thought I learned a little about the country. However the setting of Riotous Assembly, the fictional town of Piemburg, did not resemble the country I visited. I am unable to come up with an excuse for the caricatures that inhabit Riotous Assembly. It is with almost no reluctance that I suggest you avoid this book. ( )
  jwhenderson | Mar 9, 2016 |
The story is set in the apartheid era South Africa. The police station in Piemberg get a call reporting a murder. As the phone call came from a very respectable English family with a great history behind them, the commissioner of police himself goes to investigate. What he finds there are the remains of a black Zulu cook in the garden who appears to be shot by a large gun. The mistress of the house, a Miss Hazelstone, is a socialite and columnist, claims that she has shot the cook in a passionate rage. She also claims to be the lover of this cook. As this news would create a scandal the commissioner tries to coverup the incident with comical consequences.

This is supposed to be a satire on the apartheid regime in South Africa. It's funny but goes over the top. I like my humour to be subtle. An average read. ( )
  mausergem | Jan 23, 2015 |
A South African woman struggles to convince the police that she has murdered her black cook.
  Hans.Michel | Sep 13, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tom Sharpeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Álvarez Flórez, José ManuelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Buddingh', WiebeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Offering all the qualities of his general bestselling fiction, this is Tom Sharpe's blazing satire of South African apartheid, companion to Indecent Exposure.

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