Historical crime fiction with a political basis, Jonothan Cullinane's RED HERRING is set in 1950's Auckland during a time of confrontation between workers and the government. Based on the waterfront it's fascinating how this sort of pitched battle resonates in difficult places, across different decades. At that time the external threat was Communism, the battleground New Zealand's place in the world - especially as a reliable supplier of farm products "home" to England, still in the thralls of post-War austerity. But battle lines have been clearly drawn and vocally drawn: unions and workers on one side, Government and authorities on the other.
Somewhere in the middle is Johnny Molloy, soldier, turned private eye, he naturally feels more sympathy for the union side than that of the authorities, which becomes a challenge when he finds himself up against Fintan Patrick Walsh from the Federation of Labour, and the local Communist Party boss. But he's been hired to find a supposedly dead man, spotted in photographs of strike organisers, and Molloy is a good private detective. His investigation, and that of young reporter Caitlin O'Carolan collide and they find themselves both under threat, and under pressure to find out what the IRA bomber Frank O'Flynn is doing in New Zealand.
Styled as a noir tale, firmly embedded in a period of real New Zealand History, RED HERRING is dryly funny in places, deliberately dark and sparse, and an absolute page turner. It's a combination of history, mystery and reality set in something almost cinematic in quality, with heaps of dark places, a few light touches and some extremely good characters. Yet again it's taken an embarrassingly long time to realise that this review hadn't seen the light of day - and the book really should hit reading lists a lot quicker than that.