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      Paul Thomas: Fallout.

        Bitter Lemon Press, £ 8.99.    

Tito Ihaka is a Maori cop and the hero of Fallout.  He likes rugby but it is not clear which code he prefers.  I suspect his preference is Rugby Union, which would be a pity, because if we are ever to have a Rugby League playing policeman then Ihaka would be perfect.  Ihaka is no gentleman.  He is rough and tough and tackles like a prop forward.  Few walk away from an Ihaka tackle. Although misanthropic disdain and disappointment may haunt Ihaka, he is not judgemental.  Ihaka does not believe in good and bad guys.  He recognises human weakness including his own.  But he draws firm lines, and villains who transgress can be surprised by his response.  Ihaka tackles hard and he can leave human wreckage.

Fallout is a good title for this latest thriller by Paul Thomas.  The novel explores the residue of ambition and corruption. Without tough tackling Ihaka the malaise would simply continue. Ihaka has done more than enough to be the angel of vengeance that the self-indulgent powerful require.  Despite his brutal interventions, Fallout finishes with interesting loose ends that should help future books.

One critic has compared Paul Thomas to Elmore Leonard on acid.  This is misleading.  Leonard is more playful than Thomas and Leonard indulges his talent for off the wall dialogue.  Fallout has two parallel plots that have careful construction and characters whose backgrounds have been imagined with care.  The crimes in Fallout may be simple but the ramifications are complicated.  This rings true.  Although Thomas has two interesting plots, he avoids a glib dovetail.  The trail may be neon lit with corruption and human failure but it also reveals economic progress and history.  The world is complicated and not just amusing.

All the novels of Paul Thomas have a strong sense of location.  Places are determined by geography, people and economics and as Ihaka travels we understand the alternative fates endured by his suspects and witnesses.  After reading Fallout I looked at a map of New Zealand.  There is a real pleasure in looking at the small and isolated spot on a world map and remembering the complex history and circumstance of the events of the novel. 

Violence may be important to the methods and identity of Ihaka but he is not a reactionary that yearns for a world where woman are subservient.  The female characters in Fallout are strong and independent.  The problems in the domestic relationship of Ihaka are not the result of a tough guy unable to cope with female independence.  Instead, the fracture is rooted in a decision to commit that was always flawed and the inevitable boredom that results.  This disharmony is very well done and a real bonus in a crime novel.

There is no self-pity in Ihaka but he is always aware his life has insufficient hope.  The inspiration from others is inadequate.  He knows that the prizes from rebellion are worthless but his investigations confirm that anything is better than the sordid dishonest world of successful ambitious conformists.

By Howard Jackson.