Book Review: No Mortal Thing, by Gerald Seymour

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_no_mortal_thingWhen a young Englishman on secondment to a Berlin bank witnesses a violent assault on a woman, he does what most of us would do – intervene and try to stop it. For Jago Browne, that sets in motion a chain of events that will test the mild-mannered banker and put his life – and the lives of many others – in danger.

The man who committed the assault is Marcantonio, grandson of Ndrangheta crime boss Bernardo Cancello. In Berlin learning how to channel the money his family makes from crime into legitimate businesses, he can’t resist demonstrating his power by earning a little on the side. Little does he know that his run-in with Jago will have devastating consequences for his whole family.

After reporting the assault to the police and realising no action will be taken, Jago takes matters into his own hands. Instead of going back to his safe job at the bank, he follows Marcantonio to Italy with the intention of teaching him a lesson. Helped by Consolata, a woman who hates the criminal gangs as much as he does, Jago ends up hiding in a cave on a hillside above the Cancello home. He has no idea there are two undercover police officers (Fabio and Ciccio) nearby and that his presence could sabotage a long-running surveillance operation to flush out Bernardo. What is Jago there for? Will he succeed where trained professionals have so far failed?

As you would expect from a book about a Mafia-style family, there are a number of violent deaths. Some historic deaths still haunt those involved years later, including a priest who shares a dark secret with Bernardo that he can’t live with any longer.

This book has a huge cast of characters and for that reason the first hundred or so pages involved a lot of flicking back to work out who the different names belonged to and how they fitted in. In addition to the various members of Bernardo’s family and inner circle, there are small-time English gangsters, undercover agents, a police prosecutor, and officers from several different countries. Every day they all live with the danger of discovery – but who will be the first to be exposed? Jago? Fabio and Ciccio? Bernardo? Or someone else?

The pace picked up about halfway through the book and the plot developed a few unexpected twists and turns that kept me eagerly turning the pages. However I have to admit I found the last chapter unsatisfying. Several loose ends and a final twist that I don’t think anyone would have seen coming left me a little disappointed with No Mortal Thing.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

No Mortal Thing
by Gerald Seymour
Published by Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
ISBN 9781444758641

Book Review: The Many Deaths of Mary Dobie, by David Hastings

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_many_deaths_of_mary_dobieOne sunny afternoon in November 1880, on the road near Ōpunake in Taranaki, visiting Englishwoman, Mary Dobie, is brutally murdered, with her throat cut so deeply that she was all but decapitated. It was a horrific crime by both contemporary and modern standards. Wellington’s Evening Post called it a “shocking outrage”. Speculation was rife – about the nature of the crime, the behaviour of the victim, and the motive of the perpetrator.is an in-depth account of this fascinatingly awful story.

The backdrop to this sad story is the rumbling unease as tensions escalate at Parihaka. The ploughmen have been increasingly active and the pākehā settlers are calling upon the government to take action. Many at the time suspected that there were political motives for Mary’s murder, as she was the sister-in-law of a captain stationed at Taranaki with the Armed Constabulary. A confession is quickly elicited from a young Māori horse wrangler, Tuhi, and he is committed for trial.

Hastings is a journalist by background and has employed all of the talents in his arsenal to comprehensively research the events in the book, drawing upon many first-hand accounts in newspapers, court records and diaries. Sources are meticulously documented in the Notes and Bibliography, leaving no doubt that this tale is well-researched. The inclusion of photographs and drawings, some by Mary herself, bring the story to life and serve as a sobering reminder that these were real living people, and not merely fictional characters in a sordid whodunit.

This is a fascinating tale of a gruesome killing, made all the more interesting by the surrounding political climate of the time. I confess I had not before heard of the poor ill-fated Mary Dobie, but I will no longer be able to drive around the Taranaki coast without thinking of her. This is a story that stays with you for some time.

Reviewed by Tiffany Matsis

The Many Deaths of Mary Dobie: Murder, Politics and Revenge in Nineteenth Century New Zealand 
by David Hastings
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN  9781869408374