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I was a bit peeved that dark gore-author Ian Rankin got to review this, the second of Thomas’ Ihaka stories, before I did. However, I got over it. After all – it’s Rankin! And I’d have to agree with him: “Violent, funny, profane”, he said “Ihaka is a terrific maverick cop.” And indeed he is.
If you think Jake the Muss, with a conscious and an inquiring mind, then perhaps you might be halfway there. Sports writer Paul Thomas has been dabbling vicariously in a life of crime for a while now, and this time around you really get the feel that he’s been sleeping on a few police station doormats. The accuracy and genuine presence is really there. This could easily be Victoria St Station (in Wellington, that is).
His plot follows several characters as they intersect, depart and reconnect around an unsolved murder, linked to anti-nuclear politics. Over-layered are the tidbits fed to Ihaka about the suspicious circumstances that led to his unionist father’s death. Add to that an unsolved crime of a 17-year-old society girl, which preys on the mind of Ihaka’s boss immigrant cop Superintendent Finbar McGrail, who miraculously ‘chances’ new evidence at a posh club event and finds the wounds of 25 years hence opened like a festering sore.
The final component to interlace this little web is Ihaka’s disgraced former colleague Johan Van Roen who somehow finds himself hired up by a PR man to look for a political power broker who went AWOL back in ’87, paid for by a shadowy millionaire. No, his name’s not Kim but you do wonder, don’t you? In fact if you look carefully virtually every character is somehow related to recent and past headlines and the character that feature within. And I like that. I also like that Ihaka, early in the piece finds himself in the middle of domestics with his jealous girlfriend, and political shenanigans with his boss. It’s all kin of real. No surprise, Thomas is a journalist by daylight. I also love the wee references to Wellington locations, streets I’ve walked and houses I’ve probably visited or flatted in or even bus routes I’ve travelled.
There are a few clunky moments in the prose, where Thomas tries to capture the Kiwi vernacular, best left to oral interpretation, but the voice is genuine and easy to identify. It’s a strong house that rests on the foundation that his first, Death on Demand, built with Ihaka, who’s slowly growing into a two dimensional character – perhaps with a slight shadow. I look forward to further fleshing of the character in book three.
As crime stories go, I’ve often wondered why we as Kiwis soak up so much overseas drama – English, Norwegian, Swedish, American – but haven’t paid enough attention to the delights of the genre down home. Here’s your chance to support a local writer and investigate our recent historical underbelly at the same time – don’t pass it up.
Reviewed by Tim Gruar
by Paul Thomas
Published by Upstart Press