The year is 1951, New Zealand is recovering from two World Wars, but there is unrest on the Auckland waterfront. Like the rest of the world the country has concerns with the rise of communism, stirring workers into confrontation with the Government. Wool and meat destined for Great Britain will sit on the wharves if the dispute escalates and business leaders are anxious the arguments are settled so this does not happen.
Red Herring is a work of fiction but the author Jonothan Cullinane has cleverly included historical facts and fascinating characters to create a page-turning thriller. It is an era in New Zealand history many do not remember and although I was only small at the time, I well remember my father talking about waterfront disputes, and as a farmer, it was ingrained in him to supply quality products “back home”.
Johnny Molloy is a private detective hired to investigate possible insurance fraud by one of the watersiders, who was thought to have drowned until being spotted in a photograph with the some of the organisers of the strike.
The reader is taken on a murky journey as Molloy runs into conflict with Fintan Patrick Walsh from the Federation of Labour, and the Communist Party boss, V.G .Parker.
But a young Auckland Star reporter Caitlin O’Carolan adds a lightness to the novel as she supports Molloy in his quest to unravel the mystery surrounding Frank O’Flynn, an IRA bomber on the run.
This book will appeal to anyone who enjoys a thriller, and I particularly enjoyed some of the descriptions, eg. “Harry Bridges had always been a handsome bloke in what might be called an Australian way – long face, long nose, hooded eyes, hair slicked back”.
I found it a complex read with some chapters providing background history, while other chapters were short adding real momentum to the story which gripped me from the first page.
The cover design is very appropriate and the author has provided a number of pages of acknowledgements to clarify points raised in the book.
Jonothan Cullinane has worked in America and Canada as well as in the film and television industry in New Zealand . Now based in Grey Lynn, Auckland, this is his first novel and I certainly hope there are further mysteries for Johnny Molloy to solve and for us to enjoy.
Reviewed By Lesley McIntosh
by Jonothan Cullinane
Published by HarperCollins NZ