I have finally got an order from Unity Books for my new book Death of an Agent, with an email glitch not helping. Without Unity and VicBooks Pipitea, I would not be spying my spy novel in any bookshop. Whitcoulls and Paper Plus are silent as the grave. I have a story to tell. I offer three aspects of the book that are relevant today, and urge and indeed beg you to tell people to go take a look at the book and buy a good old-fashioned Kiwi spy story:
- It is, as NZ fiction reviewer Alyson Baker wrote, ‘another great New Zealand read’ that is relevant ‘considering recent events in New Zealand – when we are once again realizing sections of our community are being dangerously swayed by myths of imminent threat’. My story is about a homegrown terrorist provoked by the anti-communist hysteria of the bureaucrats and ruling politicians of the time.
- Its focus is the 1965 student protests against President Johnson’s envoy here to seek Kiwi troop commitment to the Vietnam conflict. It is the first time a section of the local population challenged American foreign policy and laid the groundwork for our independent foreign policy as exemplified by PM Lange banning nuclear ship visits and PM Clark not joining the American incursion into Iraq.
- It is about the creator of the Wellbeing Budget, World War Two Prime Minister Peter Fraser, who campaigned tirelessly against opposition from the National Party and within his own ranks to not loosen the purse strings on luxury goods in favour of ensuring all New Zealanders could enjoy a better physical and cultural life. His spokesman in this story is a broadcaster not unlike the late great Jim Henderson, a personal friend who, in 1965, confronted RSA President Hamilton Mitchell in a public debate on Vietnam commitment at the Wellington Public Library. My character Ru Patterson organizes an early version of the Citizens for Rowling group that challenged PM Muldoon. They lost that battle, just as the students lost the battle to stop Kiwi combat troops going to Vietnam, but the war for bread instead of war could be said to have been won, with its third prime ministerial iteration Jacinda Ardern and her finance minister Grant Robertson leading the push for the wellbeing of all New Zealanders. National leaked the Wellbeing Budget but only won the brief media skirmish, not the budget battle to reverse a decade of widening gaps between rich and poor and usher back in Peter Fraser’s vision of wellbeing and a fairer society. Having grown up in Scotland so poor he ate raw turnips, Fraser came here and preached a better society for all and practised what he preached. New Zealand now has another practising preacher.
- Yes, it is also a Graham Greene kind of yarn about nasty bureaucratic and political manoeuvres in the dark and recreates the café and party scene of the time, notably at the folk-singing venue the Monde Marie.
So next time you bump into somebody who likes a spy story with lots of local flavor, please tell them to check out the book at Unity or VicBooks.
Blessings upon you all.
PS Image is the back cover as a protester tries to leaflet President Johnson’s envoy outside Parliament