Friday, April 1, 2016


GUERILLA SEASON by Paul Thomas (Hodder Moa Beckett, 1996)

Reviewed by Shane Donald

Across the Tasman Sea, the Aotearoa People's Army is waging a bizarre offensive. A broadcaster is made to walk the plank and a journalist gets his neck rung. Counterterrorist experts think they are on top of it, but cop Tito Ihaka doesn't believe so. Soon he is in danger of being proved right.

In 1985 the Rainbow Warrior was sunk in the Port of Auckland by French security agents. Paul Thomas takes this as the central theme of his third Ihaka novel, Guerilla Season. What if, Thomas argues, those arrested weren’t the only ones responsible for the bombing? What if there were other actors involved who were never caught?

Like earlier novels in the series, Guerilla Season summons up an image of urban Auckland. The novel opens with a radio personality kicked off a plank high above the Auckland inner city by members of a new paramilitary group, the Aotearoa People’s Army. Ihaka is called in to investigate, possibly, he thinks, because he’s Maori. Not known for being pc Ihaka is soon taken off the case. As more murders take place (a politician is cooked in a hangi pit and the editor of New Nation is killed in Auckland Domain), the Aotearoa People’s Front alert the media as to their political aims. They do this through Amanda Hayhoe, a TV reporter.  For Ihaka, the violence doesn’t seem to match the political convictions of the radicals he knows and he begins to wonder if there’s more going on than it appears. He has another case to work on however – the blackmail of a cheating wife. She turns to Caspar Quedley from Old School Tie for help. Her missing diary leads Quedley to contacting every man she’s been intimate with in the last few months.

Unlike Old School Tie and Inside Dope, this really is a Tito Ihaka novel. He stands out more as a character and we see him in his role as detective in a way we previously didn’t. He collects evidence, thinks about things and acts on what he thinks he knows. The plot revolves around Ihaka and his drive to get to the bottom of things.

There is a lot in this novel for him to get to the bottom of. Various plots in this novel include a former rugby player turned paid heavy checking up on the adulterous wife of one of Auckland’s richest men for an employer whose motives appear unclear and the politics of choosing who will coach in high-level rugby.

As always Thomas paints his incidental characters deftly, as well as adding more to what readers know about Tito Ihaka. CC Helicar and Duane Ricketts return from Inside Dope to help McGrail find Ihaka when he gets kidnapped by the Aotearoa People’s Army. At this point of the novel Ihaka appears to be in grave danger but he doesn’t lose his sense of humor when faced with imminent death.

Readers familiar with Auckland will recognize old landmarks that have gone such as the Globe, where Leo Strange conducts business. This may tend to (slightly) date the novel but this is a minor concern in what is such an entertaining read. As I mentioned in an earlier review, after this novel, Ihaka doesn’t return until 2012’s Death on Demand and is a slightly darker character, though he still possesses a sense of humor. Humor is something that stands out in Guerilla Season and though I winced at scenes such as the death of Chas Gundry’s police protection, I still kept reading. Events move along at a rapid pace that drags the reader along for a fun ride. Ihaka emerges as a more fully rounded character and Thomas keeps the plot moving along.

It’s interesting to see what Thomas has done with Ihaka since Guerilla Season but for readers who discovered Ihaka in Death on Demand, I’d suggest going back to the earlier novels to get a feeling for how this excellent series began.

Almost twenty years after its original release, Guerrilla Season can be found in omnibus The Ihaka Trilogy (Hachette, 2010) as well as in a new print and ebook version from around the same time

Shane Donald is a New Zealander living in Taiwan. An avid reader with 3,000 books in his home, he completed a dissertation on Ngaio Marsh for his MA degree, and also has a PhD in applied linguistics. 

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