Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Review of Death on Demand by Paul Thomas (Bitter Lemon Press, 2012)

Maori cop Tito Ihaka was exiled to a rural backwater for assaulting a fellow cop and refusing to drop a case he believed was pre-meditated family murder rather than a random hit-and-run. Five years later and he’s asked to return to Auckland by his old boss to talk to Christopher Lilywhite, whose wife had been mowed down by the speeding car. Lilywhite is terminally-ill with cancer and confesses to hiring a hitman to dispose of his wife, though he has no idea as to the identity of the murderer. Ihaka’s original hunch is finally vindicated, but the following day Lilywhite is dead. When his old rivals, Detective Inspector Tony Charlton and his side-kick, are assigned to the case it seems that Ihaka is heading back to the sticks. But when another murder takes place, he’s asked to run that investigation, also taking an interest in the shooting of an undercover cop a few weeks previously. Gradually he starts to realise that there are linkages between the cases, there’s a hitman actively at work, and something is rotten in the Auckland police force.

Death on Demand is the fourth book in the Tito Ihaka series, published fifteen years after the last outing. After a slow, fragmented start in which Thomas introduces a number of characters and past crimes, the story starts to take shape, with plenty going-on in Ihaka’s return to Auckland – murder, blackmail, prostitution, police corruption, and professional robberies. The principle hook, however, is Ihaka. After five years in a rural backwater for assaulting a fellow police officer, the Maori cop has mellowed somewhat but he’s still very much his own man and conducts police business without diplomacy. And he’s still got a nose for sniffing out leads and unearthing evidence, even if some of his practices fall outside the police manual. In this sense, he sometimes tests the reader’s empathy, for example when he beds a witness. The story itself is reasonably convoluted, with a couple main threads with sub-plots and a diverse set of characters. And there is plenty of intrigue and twists and turns that kept me guessing as to the identity of the hitman and corrupt officer in the police. I’d certainly be interested in going back and reading earlier instalments.

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