Reviewed by Alyson Baker
Peter Fraser was our greatest prime minister on the international stage. He proved it as World War Two was ending and he played a major part in shaping the United Nations. In the process he made enemies. He is back in New Zealand, where a plot is under way to kill him. If it is successful, New Zealand’s influence on the international stage ends and the country descends into chaos, a divided country ripe for international manipulation.
Former detective Dan Delaney returns from sitting out the war in Italian and German prison camps. All he wants is a peaceful life with his refugee bride, but his old boss Inspector Biggart needs his help, his staff disbanded by Fraser and Nazi internees released from Somes Island. The hunt for would-be Nazi assassins takes them into Wellington’s black market underworld, a defensive Italian fishing village and an upmarket yachting haven.
Prodded by the Commissioner of Police, Dan reluctantly involves his wife in a dodgy cabaret scene, as Nazis are killed and British and Soviet spies Dan has previously clashed with arrive to assist a suspected American undercover operation. Dan and his wife risk their lives as they race to identify the threat before a prime minister refusing security is struck down.
I really liked Dan Delaney in his first outing in McGill’s THE DEATH RAY DEBACLE, and was thrilled to hear he was back. And I wasn’t disappointed with THE PLOT TO KILL PETER FRASER.
Not only is Dan back, but so too are some of his adversaries from his pre-war stint protecting an amateur scientist on Somes Island. This latest outing is post the war with Germany and in the last stages of the conflict with the Japanese, and Dan is back in New Zealand having spent most of his war years in a POW camp. He has married the nurse who cared for him after his release – a German Jewish refugee – an old trope to be sure, but Rina is much more than a cipher in this novel. Delaney is sworn back into the police force to help track down those behind a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Peter Fraser – and as with DEATH RAY there are many potential suspects.
Fraser is unpopular internationally, as he has been instrumental in setting up the new United Nations, and is not only lobbying against the veto powers of the newly emerged ‘great powers’, he is also denying those powers their wish to divvy up smaller nations as spoils of war, arguing for self-determination. The Yanks are furious he is not allowing them permanent military bases in New Zealand. He also has powerful enemies within New Zealand due to his nationalisation policies, and ironically his socialist policies are not favoured by the Soviets – as many of them highlight the advantages enjoyed by the ruling elite in the Communist Bloc.
So, Dan and Rina head down to Wellington – and a mysterious death and a coded report leads Dan once again to Somes Island, where the disaffected interned from all sides of the political spectrum would be prime targets for enlistment in an assassination conspiracy. The plot unfolds with twists, turns and lots of action, is very complex, and towards the end you want to yell at poor old Dan the equivalent of “look out behind you!!”. Some of the tangential plots are cleared up a little too rapidly, but the line runs through to the final denouement nicely.
What I really loved about this book is the way it presents New Zealand plonk in the middle of international political history. This is great if you are part of the generation who was taught New Zealand history as a sideline to international history; the latter something that happened overseas in the ‘important’ arenas of the world, and not something of which our country was an integral part. Wellington is depicted as a cosmopolitan city of cabarets, cliques and conspiracies. As with DEATH RAY DEBACLE, there is heaps of historical exposition, but it is folded into the flow reasonably well and is fascinating. And the narrative features a previous friend of mine when she was a little girl – which made it even more special for me.
I am really hoping this isn’t the last outing for Dan Delaney!
Alyson Baker is a crime-loving librarian in Nelson. This review first appeared on her blog, which you can check out here.