Friday, March 11, 2011

Reviews: Who says politics is boring?

Who says politics is boring?As New Zealand Book Month makes a welcome return in this election year, reviewer Craig Sisterson takes a look at a couple of political thrillers, one old, one new
As we said in the latest issue of NZLawyer extra (edition 20, 4 March 2011), during the month of March we will be supporting the celebration of all things books and reading that is New Zealand Book Month by reviewing a variety of locally-penned books. After all, if Kiwis won’t hit the bookstores and libraries around the country to support our local writers, how can we expect international readers to? All of us who are keen readers need to do our part to try a few local tales, perhaps in the genres or styles we each prefer, so we can see for ourselves that our writers can match, even better, the quality storytelling we often devour from their international peers.

One genre that’s been wildly popular since the dawn of storytelling is thrillers. As Lee Child told NZLawyer last year, thrillers date back to Greek Tragedies and beyond - in fact, the first stories cavemen told around the campfire were probably of heroic battles with or escapes from wild animals and other prehistoric dangers. Nowadays the thriller genre encompasses a diverse range of keep-you-up-at-night tales, including action-adventure, crime, spy, psychological, heist, domestic, conspiracy, and political.

Recently I read a couple of local novels of the latter flavour; one old, one new. A POLITICAL AFFAIR (Kinglake Publishing, 2010) won Dunedin playwright and short story writer Andrew Porteous a UK-based unpublished author competition. Part Maori detective Lachlan Doyle’s career is already in jeopardy when he’s assigned to quickly and quietly close a high-profile ‘accidental death’ case; an attractive assistant to the Prime Minister is found dead at the PM’s private house. With pressure mounting from many directions, Doyle begins to suspect that the nighttime ‘fall down the stairs’ may have actually been a push, and that powerful forces, political and otherwise, are massing to keep the truth from coming out. But who pushed, and why?

At 118 pages A POLITICAL AFFAIR is more novella than a novel, but it’s an enjoyable debut read from a new voice in Kiwi thriller writing. The story flows well, there’s a nice touch of intrigue to keep you wondering, and Doyle is a likeable hero - hemmed in by forces outside his control and understanding- that you want to follow as the pages turn. Hopefully there may be more to come from Porteous and Detective Doyle.

Going back a little further in publishing time is Michael Wall’s FRIENDLY FIRE (Penguin, 1998), which is no longer in print, but can still be found in libraries and some secondhand bookstores. As I discovered, it’s a terrific locally-set political thriller well worth digging out. Renowned expat journalist Erin Florian returns to Wellington from Europe to become Press Secretary for the new Prime Minister, after finding her French husband in bed with someone else. She quickly finds herself caught up in the political world, including plenty of intrigue caused by the new MMP system, and the Government’s junior partner undergoing a leadership coup.

When the new leader starts making outrageous demands, Erin has to dampen media speculation that the Government is coming apart at the seams. But why is the new leader so sure that Erin’s boss will eventually succumb to what seems like a poisoned chalice? Erin witnesses a killing, which is covered up, then finds herself under scrutiny from the secretive SIS, and the lesser-known but even more powerful and dangerous GSCB. More deaths, hidden conspiracies, and the country nears the brink of political and economic meltdown.

Before he became a novelist, Wall was himself a Press Secretary for a New Zealand Prime Minister (Jim Bolger in the early 1990s), and he certainly brings all that experience and inside knowledge to bear in what is a fantastic thriller, full of twists, intrigue, interesting characters, and more. Global economics, the Waihopai base and intelligence services, international relations, and the place of the media are all issues canvassed in FRIENDLY FIRE, woven into a cracking plot that keeps the pages whirring.

The best political thriller I’ve read in years, set right here in New Zealand.


This article was published in the 11 March 2011 issue of NZLawyer, and is republished here with permission.


Have you read A POLITICAL AFFAIR or FRIENDLY FIRE? Do you enjoy mixing some politics into your crime and thriller reading? Thoughts and comments welcome.

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