North & South - - Review -

This book an­nounces it­self as an at­tempt to write a piece of hard­boiled de­tec­tive fic­tion in a lo­cal set­ting – and it suc­ceeds bril­liantly.

Ac­cord­ing to the rules, it should open with a dame with gams vis­it­ing the de­tec­tive for help. In­stead, our hero de­tec­tive, Johnny Mol­loy, vis­its a man in a ho­tel room and is com­mis­sioned to in­ves­ti­gate a pos­si­ble in­sur­ance fraud.

But in the course of the novel, Cul­li­nane does man­age to tick an aw­ful lot of hard-boiled/noir boxes. There’s the clas­sic struc­ture, which sees him go from en­counter to en­counter, one lead lead­ing to an­other, in the search for one O’flynn. There’s a scene where he’s cap­tured, trussed up and beaten. There’s even sexy smok­ing at one stage. In­stead of a femme fa­tale who be­trays him, how­ever, we get a com­pe­tent fe­male co-pro­tag­o­nist.

The book is set im­me­di­ately prior to the 1951 water­front un­for­tu­nate­ness and man­ages to bring in World Wars I and II, the Span­ish Civil War, the Korean War and nu­mer­ous other real-life events and char­ac­ters, no­tably Fin­tan Pa­trick Walsh. Even the IRA gets a look in.

Most of it is set in and around the Auck­land sub­urb of Grey Lynn. Cul­li­nane wears his plen­ti­ful, his­tor­i­cally ac­cu­rate id­ioms lightly, other than one jar­ringly anachro­nis­tic ref­er­ence to Cameron Brewer, of all peo­ple. Many other char­ac­ters are men­tioned in pass­ing who share names with liv­ing mi­nor lo­cal iden­ti­ties.

Mer­ci­fully, we are not forced to en­dure at­tempts to repli­cate Chan­dleresque baroque prose. The style here is more Dashiell Ham­mett-dry. Of Walsh, for in­stance, we are told: “His war was the class war. Both sides.”

And there’s noth­ing par­tic­u­larly orig­i­nal about the plot. What’s dif­fer­ent is see­ing it ap­plied so well to lo­cal con­di­tions. In fact, with Red Her­ring, Grey Lynn may fi­nally have the hard-boiled, pinko, his­tor­i­cal noir fic­tion it de­serves.

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