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by Paul Thomas
Bitter Lemon, April 2013
265 pages
8.99 GBP
ISBN: 1908524170

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Maori detective Tito Ihaka was banished to a rural backwater for his aggressive pursuit of Lilywhite, a man whose wife was killed by a hit-and-run driver, but is called back to Auckland when Lilywhite asks to see him. On his deathbed, Lilywhite confesses to paying for the murder, and tells Ihaka of other deaths that he suspects may be by the same hand. As Ihaka begins to interview persons of interest, a series of deaths follow. One aspect of particular concern is the rumour of a crooked cop in town, which may explain the exposure and shooting of a police under-cover agent. Ihaka's in-your-face style stirs up some dark waters, and his unpopularity with some Auckland police mean that any mistakes will ensure ignominy and early return to exile.

There have been three previous Tito Ihaka novels, sufficient to establish him as 'unkempt, overweight, intemperate, unruly, unorthodox and profane'. In DEATH ON DEMAND, he has been away for five years, lost weight, and improved his behaviour; apart from an initial scene where he decks an unsympathetic colleague, his bad conduct is not too evident. His Maori heritage is also downplayed, and barely rates a mention. Possibly the author is disinclined to tire those who are already familiar with Ihaka from earlier books, but a first-time reader is likely to find little remarkable about the protagonist, outside of his reputation.

An alternative explanation of the limited space devoted to character development is the amount of plot needing to be fitted in. This is indeed substantial, necessitating several interruptions to refer back to check names. Thomas also likes to give minor characters the opportunity to explain their past actions in detail through several pages of back story.

In so far as the bent cop aspect of the story is concerned, the author has the usual problem, in that the reader would be confused if introduced to too many potential candidates, and with only a few to choose from misdirection is needed to sustain the suspense until the final pages.

With a central character of so much potential, however, one can't help feeling a little disappointed that Thomas has not made more of him. And despite all the murders, there is little generated by way of suspense. But despite that, DEATH ON DEMAND moves along very smartly, the action is non-stop, the protagonist entertaining enough to hold the attention, and the New Zealand setting provides a dimension of interest. It would be just the thing for a medium-haul flight.

Chris Roberts is a retired manager of shopping centres in Hong Kong, and now lives in Bristol, primarily reading.

Reviewed by Chris Roberts, March 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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