Wednesday, June 27, 2012

F is for FRIENDLY FIRE (forgotten fiction)

Once again, in 2012, thanks to the fabulous Kerrie of Mysteries in Paradise, crime fiction afficianados around the world are sharing posts about a variety of crime fiction authors, books, themes, and more - in an alphabetical sort ot way.

The 2012 edition of the Crime Fiction Alphabet (CFA) kicked off a a few weeks ago (yes, I've slipped behind so far, only doing the "C" and "E" posts), and this week we are up to the letter 'F'. Generally I've avoided repeating old CFA posts in later editions, but this week I'm going to make an exception. In February 2011, I featured FRIENDLY FIRE by Michael Wall as my 'F' post of that edition of the CFA. At the time I hadn't read the book, so was just highlighting its existence. Since that time I've read (and really enjoyed) the New Zealand-set political thriller, so I thought for this week, I'd again feature FRIENDLY FIRE - which is also a fantastic piece of 'forgotten fiction' (five Fs - how could I resist?), but in an updated post that incorporates my thoughts about the book after reading it. So here we go:

FRIENDLY FIRE is a fast-paced political crime thriller by Kiwi author Michael Wall, who wrote several thrillers, which got good reviews, back in the mid-late 1990s and early 2000s. Wall is a former Chief Press Secretary for the New Zealand Government. He also worked in the Office of the Prime Minister, for Jim Bolger (New Zealand Prime Minister from 1990-1997). He had previously been offered a job by David Lange (New Zealand Prime Minister 1984-1989), but turned him down.

Wall later moved to Te Ore Ore in the Wairarapa where he wrote, and bred sports horses. He was also Deputy Chair of the Tourism Board. His thriller novels include Museum Street, Friendly Fire, The Cassino Legacy, The Temptations of Frederick Weld, and Cardinal Sins. He has also written other books, including the non-fiction book Wairarapa: A Place Apart. Although his books are no longer in print, they can be found online from secondhand dealers and auction websites.

FRIENDLY FIRE was his second political thriller - a type of book that although very popular overseas hasn't seen many exponents in New Zealand. For a time Wall was also rumoured to be the author of SPIN, a highly-politicised thriller written by 'Anonymous', although Wall denied this and had his own suspicions of who else within the New Zealand Parliamentary inner circle may have written that book.

Here's the blurb for FRIENDLY FIRE:

"Journalist Erin Florian returns home from Europe seeking silence and solitude, only to be sucked into a whirlwind of passion, political intrigue and sudden death on the windy streets. FRIENDLY FIRE is an incandescent novel.

In this stylish, fast-paced thriller the author of the best-selling MUSEUM STREET writes of teh dangerous world of MMP politics... fills his capital with a cast that is evil, brutal, ruthless, funny and lethal... and gives us a 'behind the bullet-proof doors' insight into the shadowy world of New Zealand's secret services and the sinister power they wield over our political mistresses and masters."

Before I'd even read it, I thought it sounded pretty intriguing. Particularly as a New Zealand-set political thriller: in a global sense our little country is a pretty benign democracy, but there are of course plenty of 'goings-on', well, going-on. Intrigue beneath the calm surface, perhaps?

As it turned out, FRIENDLY FIRE (Penguin, 1998) was one of the very best thrillers I read in 2011 (out of 88 crime novels, and 100 books total). Although it is set in the 1990s, a lot of what Wall addressed was still of issue nowadays. In fact, the Waihopai 'spy base' in Marlborough, which features in the novel, had at the time I read FRIENDLY FIRE been recently in the news, thanks to a group which broke in and vandalised the base as a protest action (Waihopai is reportedly part of ECHELON, the worldwide network of signals interception facilities run by a consortium of intelligence agencies which shares global electronic and signals intelligence among the Intelligence agencies of the US, UK, Canada, Australia and NZ).

FRIENDLY FIRE is a terrific locally-set political thriller well worth digging out. Returning home after discovering her French husband's affair, renowned expat journalist Erin Florian becomes Press Secretary for the new Prime Minister. 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 minor coalition party's 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.

I imagine that FRIENDLY FIRE would be enjoyed by many readers around the world, not just New Zealanders. It has plenty of universal themes and issues beneath the specifics - government secrecy, manipulation of (and by) the media, what everyday people really know about what's going on, the importance of the economy, and much much more.

As I noted above, before he became a novelist, Wall was himself a Press Secretary for a New Zealand Prime Minister (Jim Bolger), 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.

A top notch political thriller - such a shame it's currently out of print. Grab a copy if you can find one.


  1. Yep, it's a good one with lots of insider knowledge..

  2. I have his others on my bookshelf at home - judging by how much I liked this one, I should definitely try to get to some more of them soon.

    Any idea what Wall is up to now Stephen?

  3. I didn't read your post from last year and so it's a new book for me. Thank you so much for giving us this look. Sounds like a wonderful read.

  4. Definitely sounds like an interesting book. I will put it on my list to look out for. Nice review.

  5. Craig, the last I heard (this year) was he is living near Masterton and breeding horses. No idea if he's still writing.