The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965
Kath. Kath is a girl's name, and also prison slang for an indeterminate sentence. Both kinds of "Kath" threaten the central figure of Keith Henshaw's novel Kath, 1964. The publishers announce this as a suspense thriller, which it certainly is. But it is also as economical and vitriolic a satire on the lower levels of New Zealand life as we have had for a long time. The dialogue is sharp, crude, crackling and recognisable. The setting is real. The little ring of vivid, amoral characters grate upon one another in a fast plot. Vern, Merv and Ne are "chippies" on an Auckland housing construction job, and take to large-scale timber stealing, aided by Nev and nasty little Eric. Kath is the wife of Vern. In spite of the vamped-up horror fantasies of the ending, Kath is an intelligent and memorable evocation of our seamier side.
The sex-and-violence thriller with a historical base is still saleable, it seems, to judge by the continuing issue of stories by Frank Bruno and George Joseph.