Thursday, September 11, 2014


THE IHAKA TRILOGY by Paul Thomas (Hachette, 2010) 

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

Relentlessly tough yet hilarious, ingeniously plotted and full of killer one-liners, and featuring a rogue's gallery of weird and wild characters, THE IHAKA TRILOGY brings together the three novels that put New Zealand crime writing on the map.

INSIDE DOPE by Paul Thomas won the inaugural Ned Kelly Award and I blinked and then struggled to get my hands on a copy. I managed to track down GUERILLA SEASON years ago, and then not so long ago at the end of a long quest I found a copy of INSIDE DOPE. But still the search went on. The first book in the IHAKA series - OLD SCHOOL TIE continued to evade me. So you can imagine the joy when THE IHAKA TRILOGY arrived. I was so pleased that it jumped a considerable number of books to the top of the reviewing pile.

I just love these books. I love the settings, I love the humour, the quality of the plots and all of the characters. I love the way that Tito Ihaka is a central character, but not necessarily THE central character. These are very much ensemble cast books with Tito and others never taking the entire focus. I also love the way that these books are not necessarily straight-forward police procedurals, although they do involve police investigations (and ex-police investigations) and journalistic investigations and a whole bunch of things happening all at once.

Making Ihaka not the entire focus of these books is quite an achievement as he's a larger than life sort of bloke. Maori, toe treading, unconventional, he's balanced beautifully against his very proper, very buttoned up, very Irish, dour boss Ulsterman Finbar McGrail. These two are a wonderful unlikely pairing - very, very different, yet understanding of each other and able to work together in the most unlikely of partnerships.

Each of the three books in the trilogy stand up really well on their own, but presented in this book together, they also show just how much Paul Thomas must have enjoyed writing these stories. OLD SCHOOL TIE is all about the suspected suicide of a man who had it all. It's not until freelance journalist Reggie Sparks' investigation connects this man to the 24-year old suicide of a teenage girl at a private school ball, that things really start to move. This opening book sets up a style, a series of characters and a great sense of New Zealand place. Oh and a feud between the Sydney Mafia and a Maori gang. The second book, INSIDE DOPE, involves a race for the lost treasure of the Mr Asia drug syndicate between a rogue American narcotics agent, the CIA, Ihaka, an ex-cop and assorted family and hangers on. The final book GUERILLA SEASON has Ihaka looking into a series of very high profile murders, all in the name of an unknown terrorist group.

Cleverly each of these books weaves a little truth into the fiction (Mr Asia/the terrorist group with connections to the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior), whilst also incorporating a hefty dose of humour, some sad moments, some clever plots and some magnificently lunatic goings on. You can probably tell from this review - I loved the two books I'd previously read, I loved reading them again, I loved the first book and I loved having all three in the one trilogy. And it was most definitely not a trial to read three Ihaka books in a row - it's a bit of a trial knowing that's it for the time being. Hopefully just the time being.

Karen Chisholm is one of the most respected crime fiction reviewers in Australia. She has been running her Aust Crime Fiction website since 2006, highlighting a plethora of authors and titles from this part of the world, to the wider world online. It is a terrific resource - please check it out. 

Karen also reviews for the Newtown Review of Books, and since 2014 has been a Judge of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel - the New Zealand crime writing award. Her reviews of New Zealand crime novels will now be shared here on Crime Watch as well as on Aust Crime Fiction

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