Sunday, February 01, 2009


By Maurice Shadbolt

Novels about the Maori Wars are perhaps uncommon, but the ones I’ve read are uncommon good. Season of the Jew is part farce, part Western shoot-‘em-up, and part Journey to Hell. The Maori Wars were an odd kind of conflict. They were essentially an Indian war, but fought in the temperate rain forests of New Zealand. They involved as much trench warfare as they did guerrilla warfare, for the Maori were advanced practitioners of both.

George Fairweather is a British officer who survives enough war to claim a homestead at Poverty Bay. He befriends Coats, a Maori who served on the side of the “pakeha”, as the natives call the whites. But persecution, exile, escape, and pursuit transforms Coates from a genially atheistic rum—runner into Kooti, a prophet of war seeking to purge his Zion of the gentiles. Fairweather pays dearly for lost friendship, and pays even dearer for simple humanity. Season of the Jew builds to one of the grimmest denouements I have ever read.

Shadbolt is an unusual writer, at times he is more at home with a sort of 19th century banter that seems to some by way of a 1940s Hollywood movie. At other times he depicts waking nightmares of wanton cruelty. It never comes across as mere shock either, man’s best is never far from his worst. While not a great stylist, Shadbolt was unflinching in his indictment of baseness and created memorable work from it.

-Dave Hardy

No comments: