Saturday, December 6, 2014

Review: FALLOUT by Paul Thomas

FALLOUT by Paul Thomas (Upstart Press, 2014)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Tito Ihaka is an unpinned grenade of a man. Throw him into just about any situation, and it’s not long before things explode. Ihaka rampages through life – a rhino in a china shop – regularly rubbing people the wrong way: people who love him, loathe him, or have just met him.

He also happens to be a rather fine detective; a far-from-thin member of the thin blue line who has a knack for catching hard-to-catch criminals. Amidst pissing off his peers and bosses with Swiss clockwork regularity.  The hulking Maori copper has pissed off readers too. One of the most fascinating ‘heroes’ in the history of New Zealand fiction completely disappeared from the page for fifteen years after stealing the show in three thrillers penned by the man described as the ‘Godfather of Kiwi crime writing’, Paul Thomas, in the mid 1990s.

Fortunately, Ihaka made a triumphant return (from exile to rural Wairarapa) in Death on Demand, which earned Thomas the 2013 Ngaio Marsh Award and was named ‘Crime Novel of the Year’ by British magazine Shots! And now the hulking Maori copper is back again, fighting the good fight.

And the bad fight. Any fight, actually.

Having been demoted to Sergeant for insubordination and pigheadedness, Ihaka is charged by his long-suffering mentor, Superintendent Finbar McGrail, with turning a scrap of new information about the almost-forgotten murder of a teenager at a ritzy 1987 election night party into a finally solved file. McGrail has been haunted by the cold case since his earliest days as an immigrant copper.

Meanwhile, a freelance journalist uncovers information suggesting that Ihaka’s trade unionist father Jimmy may not have died of natural causes, and disgraced former detective Johan van Roon, Ihaka’s former best mate, is hired by a PR rep for a shady millionaire to investigate the recent sighting of a notorious political powerbroker who vanished back in 1987. Intrigue swirls as past collides with present on several fronts.

Back in the day, critics described Thomas’s prose as “Elmore Leonard on acid”, and Fallout showcases his talent for mixing wit, action, and brevity. There’s an energy crackling through the prose. Nary a wasted word.

There’s plenty of darkness in violence in Fallout as Ihaka barrels through town, piecing together misdeeds old and new, but there’s a real sense of fun too. Like our hero, the story itself almost has a cavalier smirk; we’re riding shotgun with a modern-day cowboy, and it’s a heck of an enjoyable ride to go on.

Thomas nicely evokes a sense of both modern-day and 1980s New Zealand life, diverse and non-homogenised. We see Ihaka playing pseudo-coach to a rugby-loving son of a woman he’s dating on and off, juggling the intricacies of intimacy and friendship, and coming to terms with the shades of grey in others as well as himself.

Good thrillers need a pacy, exciting plot. Great thrillers have much more. Fallout is superb. 


Read more about Paul Thomas here: 

FALLOUT will be published in North America and Europe by Bitter Lemon Press in April 2015. 


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