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Paul Thomas: Death on Demand.

Bitter Lemon Press,  £8.99, ISBN 978-1-908524-17-1256.

First published in the United Kingdom in 2013 by
Bitter Lemon Press, 37 Arundel Gardens,
London W11 2LW
www.bitterlemonpress.com

The hard-boiled thriller is sustained by superior claims to authenticity.  Even when Raymond Chandler was contemplating calling his hero Mallory he still insisted that the streets in his novels were meaner than those in classic detective fiction.   Authenticity works best in the hard-boiled thriller when the writer understands that it is needed to describe a world that offers inauthentic plastic existence.   America for many years represented this future, which is why we believed in their hard-boiled authenticity.   The authenticity of the narrator/hero enjoyed a distance from the artificiality around him or her.  This gap does not exist in the Cotswolds, which is why the English have Morse.

Incredibly, readers believed in the private eye with cricket team ideals.  We assumed that Chandler perhaps resembled his hero.  He must have been similar, the kind of man who would stand steadfast in a difficult situation.   Hard-boiled thrillers are written in a style that suggests tough guys behind the keyboard.   Cynical lawyers like George V Higgins remembered the transcripts of interviews with their clients and reproduced it as noir crime.  James Ellroy insisted he was authentic because he was honest about seedy sexual obsessions.  This need for authenticity spread to other crime fiction.  Women authors, like Patricia Cornwell, used their previous experience as pathologists and wrote novels about crime busting medics. Of course, time renders most attempts at authenticity as inadequate.   Philip Marlowe is now a male fantasy that embarrasses modern men and those who read ‘Death On Demand’ will afterwards be less susceptible to tales of strong potentially decent men redeemed by a virtuous or potentially virtuous female.  James Ellroy may have to re-think his definition of authenticity. 

Paul Thomas has a jaundiced eye and no superior women exist in his novel to rescue the independent male.  Neither is the independent male capable of emerging on to a more moral plateau.  The hero of ‘Death On Demand’, policeman Tito Ikaha, may keep the rest of the callow Auckland police force at bay but the result is not a testament to his integrity.  At the end of the book, we leave Ikaha ready to cause damage he is unable to resist.   For a hard-boiled thriller, the ending is very subtle, a real highlight and justification alone for continuing through what is a quite complicated plot.  But well before the ending there is plenty of enjoyment for the reader.  The plot fits together neatly and the characterization is solid.  Paul Thomas is a cynic and he is best at describing weakness.   When his characters have strength it usually manifests itself as loyalty but nobody should knock loyalty.  In the bleak modern world described by Thomas, it is all we have.  The dialogue is not state of the art but there is a complicated plot to explain.  And it may be me.  I suspect I was reading New Zealand confrontations with an American accent that automatically appears in my head when I read hard-boiled crime.   Paul Thomas has become addictive to New Zealand readers and this book demonstrates how.

 Howard Jackson