The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965
Crime Fiction. Another sub-type flourishing in recent years is the detective story, where we have at least one remarkable success, Simon Jay's Death of a Skin Diver, 1964. This has a tight plot, good writing, and a really knowledgeable exploitation of the New Zealand setting. What could be better ingredients for a local thriller than skindiving, yachting and yachtsmen, expeditions by day and by night on the intricacies of the Waitemata Harbour (with maps), plus some smuggling, some science, some humour, and some murder? Simon Jay is a pseudonym disguising an Auckland pathologist; his amateur page 115 detective is, naturally, also a pathologist, Dr Peter Much, who looks like a winner.
There are several other newcomers to the genre. Ralph Stephenson has an "on-the-run" yarn; Valerie Grayland has tried to establish a Maori detective; Noeline Tarrant sets a lively story among Rotorua weekenders, with boats and a tapu cave as extras. Barbara Cooper, in Target for Malice, 1964, makes an original first thriller out of tensions below the suburban surface of a group of isolated houses. The young married folk involved are well managed, as are the criminal details, the poisoned cat, the social evening, the sleeping pills, the conventional chit-chat, and—not to give the plot away—the milk bottle.
Our most consistent producer of homegrown detection has been Elizabeth Messenger, who has added five titles to her list. The best is A Heap of Trouble, 1963, set in the Bay of Islands. Who used the launch last? Why is Miss Preedy's rockery interesting? Is that a body in the sawdust heap? Elizabeth Messenger also wrote a historical story of the Otago goldfields, based on family papers. Mary Scott and Joyce West continue to collaborate in stories featuring their detective Inspector Wright; the liveliest is Who put it there, 1965, which manipulates the stock devices with competence. Neva Clarke's Behind Closed Doors, 1964, is a modification of the type, a novel of manners that ends in madness and murder. Adrienne Geddes and Bee Baldwin have made a beginning with science fiction set in New Zealand.