Wednesday, June 1, 2011

T is for TARGET FOR MALICE by Barbara Cooper

For my second go around at the Crime Fiction Alphabet (read my 2010 posts here), I've set myself the challenging task of focusing not only just on New Zealand-themed posts, but just on Kiwi crime fiction books (ie I won't do any author profiles etc this time around) - although sometimes it may be the author's name that is relevant to the letter of the week.

This week I’m highlighting another lesser-known New Zealand mystery novel that was published almost fifty years ago: TARGET FOR MALICE by Barbara Cooper. Well out-of-print now and quite hard to find, TARGET FOR MALICE was published in the UK in 1964 by Robert Hale and in New Zealand by Whitcombe & Tombs.

In a scholarly publication of the time, The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965, it was noted that Cooper was one of a group of newcomers to the local crime fiction genre, which was “flourishing in recent years”, with the likes of Elizabeth Messenger, the team of Mary Scott and Joyce West, the “remarkable success” of Simon Jay’s DEATH OF A SKIN DIVER (1964), and the emergence of Ralph Stevenson, Noeline Tarrant, Valerie Grayland, Neva Clarke, and Barbara Cooper.

In TARGET FOR MALICE, Anna Carr has given a party to welcome home her niece, Hester Court, to New Zealand. It was also to introduce some new residents in the little isolated community, known as the Ridge, to older inhabitants. But, as Inspector Gibbon said later, the Ridge was like a giant fungus, weird and unnatural, splaying out from the trunk of the hill behind it and something of its own sinister oddness seemed to have affected the inhabitants.

Hester was dismayed by the uneasy atmosphere at the party; by the barely veiled hostility to Louisa and Fergus, two of the newcomers. Two days later, the violence erupted and the hidden malice came into the open and showed who was its target.

In The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965, it was noted that Cooper “makes an original first thriller out of tensions below the suburban surface of a group of isolated houses. The young married folk involved are well managed, as are the criminal details, the poisoned cat, the social evening, the sleeping pills, the conventional chit-chat, and—not to give the plot away—the milk bottle.”

I managed to source a copy of TARGET FOR MALICE from an online second-hand dealer - it’s hard to find, but there will still be copies floating around out there, and some libraries may still have it in stock too. I’m looking forward to reading it, and getting a snapshot of New Zealand life in the mid 1960s

Have you read TARGET FOR MALICE, perhaps ‘back in the day’? Do you like reading older crime novels that are out of print, to see how ‘things have changed’ or to enjoy a different style? And what is it about the smell of old hardcover books? Comments welcome.


  1. Craig - I've a soft spot for those "out of date" crime novels, I think because I like history. So thanks for sharing this one :-).

  2. I read Friend Feed but am not on it, however, I read your question about translators. Some that come to mind are:
    Sian Reynolds - Fred Vargas
    Victoria Cribb - Arnaldur Indridasson (after Bernard Scudder)
    Don Bartlett - Jo Nesbo
    Tina Nunnelly - several
    Stephen Sarterelli - Andrea Camilleri (and he writes wonderful and hilarious endnotes with historical, culinary and political tidbits)