When I was growing up in Nelson in the 1980s I - like many of my peers - thought our own history wasn't anywhere near as exciting as the exotic things I read about from overseas. We'd visit Founders Park or the Isel Park Museum, see some 1800s classrooms, machinery, and other things from settler life, look at old photos, and learn a little about the Treaty of Waitangi - but where were the pirates, the battles, the daring deeds and heroic figures?
For a primary schooler (grade school for our US readers), it all seemed rather drab in comparison.
Of course the truth is rather different: New Zealand may be a young country on the far side of the world from nations that have grown from ancient civilisations, but our shorter history is packed with all sorts of fascinating events and people, from those who've paved the way for the world (eg Kate Sheppard and the suffragettes who secured the vote for women, Ernest Rutherford splitting the atom, Edmund Hillary conquering Mt Everest alongside Tenzing Norgay,) to lesser-known but equally interesting people and events.
As a crime fiction fan who enjoys the way setting can bleed into and texture great mystery tales, I've often wondered why New Zealand writers, of all kinds, haven't tapped into that history more. In particular, New Zealand society changed a lot in the post-war years, and there were many seminal events, from the 1950s Waterfront strikes to the Vietnam War, Springbok Tour in 1981, Muldoon's snap election, rise and fall of the 1980s Labour Party, the Rainbow Warrior bombing, and nuclear shipping stand-off with the United States. Among many other things.
In her very good crime novel CROSS FINGERS, Paddy Richardson does revisit the Springbok Tour, and today I've learned that another New Zealand crime writer will be publishing a thriller set another of those key events in our country's modern history: the 1951 Waterfront Strike.
RED HERRING from debutant Jonothan Cullinane will be published by HarperCollins later this year. I don't have a cover image to share at this stage, but here's the blurb:
Murder, political intrigue, bent cops and the fate of a nation - a thriller set in the murky underworld of 1951 New Zealand. A man overboard, a murder and a lot of loose ends ...In Auckland 1951 the workers and the government are heading for bloody confrontation and the waterfront is the frontline. But this is a war with more than two sides and nothing is what it seems. Into the secret world of rival union politics, dark political agendas and worldwide anti-communist hysteria steps Johnny Molloy, a private detective with secrets of his own. Caitlin O'Carolan, a feisty young reporter, is following her own leads. Together they begin to uncover a conspiracy that goes to the heart of the Establishment - and which will threaten their own lives in the process. Filled with memorable characters, including many colourful real-life figures from recent New Zealand history, Red Herring is the stunning debut from a vibrant new voice in New Zealand fiction.