In The Legend of Winstone Blackhat, Tanya Moir takes the reader, in a sustained and authentic way, into the world-view of an abused 12 year old. She writes powerfully about a boy, Winstone, (named after a NZ concreting company) who comes from a neglectful and damaging home life. The novel segues effortlessly between Winstone's day to day existence as a run away in the hills of Central Otago and his cowboy fantasy of a journey of revenge across the plains of the American West.
Moir's evocation of the physical landscape is vivid and tactile – a place where the very elements are charged with agency; the sun is “ a stalking thing” and clouds are “frazzled”. If this sounds overly 'poetic' it's not. Moir's almost Frame-like use of metaphor (fitting given the locale) flows naturally and unselfconsciously. It captures beautifully both how a child perceives the world and the sense of Winstone's lack of agency. He finds agency only in his Hollywood-style Western fantasy as 'The Kid' who seeks revenge and/or redemption.
There are moments of numinous beauty and even humour in The Legend of Winstone Blackhat. Mostly though, and throughout, our hearts ache for this young boy who tries his best to make sense of a cruel world. It is only gradually revealed why Winstone is in hiding and what it is he has run away from. Moir renders, with great insight and empathy, the intricate links that bind abuser and abused and how the victim can become the perpetrator. With mounting dismay we follow Winstone's journeys, the real one and the imagined one, to their unflinching conclusions.
The Legend of Winstone Blackhat, is an outstanding achievement by a writer at her peak. But, and I think it is worth discussing, is it a crime novel? Yes, there is crime in it, perhaps the worst sort of crime possible - child abuse and paedophilia – and it could be said to be a 'why done it' to some extent. However I am not convinced that this novel is well served by positioning it in the crime genre. It is like including a pear in an apple show - how can they be compared? This is not, I hasten to add, privileging The Legend of Winstone Blackhat, as 'too good' for crime. It's just a pear not an apple. Having said that, it is, by far, the best pear I have had in a long time.