Title: The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965

Author: Joan Stevens

Publication details: Reed Publishing (NZ) Ltd, 1966

Digital publication kindly authorised by: Sylvia Johnston

Part of: New Zealand Texts Collection

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The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965


Thrillers. This group divides neatly into two, the thrillers of violence, by the men, the thrillers of tension or puzzle, by the women. On the whole the women's work is more sophisticated.

Several of the men who write international yarns to the standard recipe visit New Zealand now and then for their locale. Cecil M. Wills's Death in the Dark, 1955, is a detective thriller in which the victim dies in the Waitomo Caves. Wills is as dully informative about our tourist attractions as G. A. Henty was sixty years before. Others who exploit our setting are John Boswell, that indefatigable Australian F. J. Thwaites, Wallace Reyburn, Andrew Mackenzie, George Joseph, the last two being regulars in the "American Bloodhound" series. They combine tourist titbits with sadistic thrills, disposing of their victims in geysers, caves, glaciers, or in mysterious spots impregnated with Maori tapu. George Joseph's Lie Fallow My Acre, 1957, has a sheep-station setting, an American hero, and some surprising material on the colour bar. Arthur E. Jones, known as a ZB serialist, writes red-hot adventure featuring Felix Halliday, but deliberately avoids any recognisable milieu except the undefined Austral-Anglo-American world of crime stories. Ken Sandford, on the other hand, has kept to the local scene for his blondes and bashers, with the result that he drew down on his head in the New Zealand Listener one of Denis Glover's most mocking reviews.* Dead Reckoning, 1955, offers sex and violence in the Coromandel area; Dead Secret, 1957, involves atomic security and a bomb at Waiouru. Maxim Hale is the hero of both, a swift-talking guy, shooting Runyonese sideways at the foe who are significantly named Ratface, Tollatti, Neckie, Chelkar. Maybe (Max's favourite word, that), maybe this sort of "death-and-six-dame thriller" is more bearable when you are not familiar with the territory, and are not brought up short continually by its local enormities. In this world of male make-believe perhaps everything should be pretence, even the scenery.

* Available in Denis Glover's Bedside Book, 1963.