JONOTHAN CULLINANE (HARPERCOLLINS, $36.99)
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.