• STEVE WINWOOD - HIGHER LOVE

    Now Playing

    HIGHER LOVE - STEVE WINWOOD

  • Diana Ross & the Supremes - WHERE DID OUR LOVE GO

    Previously Played

    WHERE DID OUR LOVE GO - Diana Ross & the Supremes

  • DON MCLEAN - American Pie (FULL)

    Previously Played

    American Pie (FULL) - DON MCLEAN

  • 10CC - THE THINGS WE DO FOR LOVE

    Previously Played

    THE THINGS WE DO FOR LOVE - 10CC

  • FOREIGNER - WAITING FOR A GIRL LIKE YOU

    Previously Played

    WAITING FOR A GIRL LIKE YOU - FOREIGNER

  • THE CARPENTERS - PLEASE MR POSTMAN

    Previously Played

    PLEASE MR POSTMAN - THE CARPENTERS

  • CAT STEVENS - WILD WORLD

    Previously Played

    WILD WORLD - CAT STEVENS

  • THE ROLLING STONES - HONKY TONK WOMEN

    Previously Played

    HONKY TONK WOMEN - THE ROLLING STONES

  • NEIL DIAMOND - HEARTLIGHT

    Previously Played

    HEARTLIGHT - NEIL DIAMOND

  • EAGLES - NEW KID IN TOWN

    Previously Played

    NEW KID IN TOWN - EAGLES

  • David Bowie - SORROW

    Previously Played

    SORROW - David Bowie

  • HALL & OATES - KISS ON MY LIST

    Previously Played

    KISS ON MY LIST - HALL & OATES

  • DONNA LEWIS - I LOVE YOU ALWAYS FOREVER

    Previously Played

    I LOVE YOU ALWAYS FOREVER - DONNA LEWIS

  • JOHN DENVER - CALYPSO

    Previously Played

    CALYPSO - JOHN DENVER

  • THE RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS - UNCHAINED MELODY

    Previously Played

    UNCHAINED MELODY - THE RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS

  • GENESIS - INVISIBLE TOUCH

    Previously Played

    INVISIBLE TOUCH - GENESIS

  • ATLANTA RHYTHM SECTION - SO INTO YOU

    Previously Played

    SO INTO YOU - ATLANTA RHYTHM SECTION

  • BILLY PAUL - ME AND MRS JONES

    Previously Played

    ME AND MRS JONES - BILLY PAUL

  • TRAVELING WILBURYS - END OF THE LINE

    Previously Played

    END OF THE LINE - TRAVELING WILBURYS

  • CHER - IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME

    Previously Played

    IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME - CHER

  • THE BYRDS - MR. TAMBOURINE MAN

    Previously Played

    MR. TAMBOURINE MAN - THE BYRDS

-

Stephanie Jones: Book Review - Shafts of Strife by David Bates

Author
Stephanie Jones,
Section
Book Reviews,
Publish Date
Friday, 10 February 2017, 12:32PM

Philip Roth’s 2004 novel The Plot Against America makes instructive reading today: Charles Lindbergh defeats incumbent President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 general election. Lindbergh had two distinctive traits, a talent for flying and a fondness for National Socialist ideology, and his presidency resulted in the internment of Jewish Americans in camps on their home soil.

History doesn’t have to be twisted much to create a nightmarish present, and in Shafts of Strife, David Bates offers a timely portrait of a New Zealand tipped off its axis. In the mid-1980s, the Lange administration has been pushed into the rear-view mirror, but its populist anti-nuclear position holds – until conservative Prime Minister Wynyard Nairn does a deal allowing the United States government to establish a don’t-ask-don’t-tell US naval facility in Wellington Harbour. The agreement provokes a rebellion by NOANA (National Organisation Against Nuclear Arms), which unleashes a well-orchestrated but unintentionally bloody series of attacks designed to destabilize the Nairn administration and force a backdown.

It’s plenty topical: one reason for American interest in a southern beachhead is the expansion of Russian activity in the South Pacific; the long-standing but tattered ANZUS agreement is subject to reconstruction; Australia is putting pressure on its small neighbour to toe the line; and it’s an election year. As ordinary Kiwis rise up in violent resistance, state surveillance of private citizens increases, and the Prime Minister, presiding over a cowed Cabinet, succumbs to megalomania and threatens to pass legislation – something like, say, an executive order – to bring the police service under government control.

Bates is a former inspector and legal adviser to the New Zealand Police, so it is perhaps unsurprising that his law enforcers are uniformly correct and courageous. They lack the NOANA protestors’ tendency to hotheaded haplessness, and possess all the moral steeliness absent in Nairn. By turns, Police Commissioner Patrick Edsun and his deputy Colin Cadman speak truth to power, as does a Governor-General, who proves his role more than symbolic. The Minister of Police, on the other hand, is a callow stooge of the Prime Minister and a discomforting reminder that not everyone who rises to the highest levels of power does so on merit.

Unfortunately, Shafts of Strife is plagued by a general sloppiness in editing that undermines the largely solid story. These errors – inconsistent punctuation, a misspelling of Lyttelton, for example – are distracting, as is the multiplicity of closed-door meetings and conversational exchanges whose length and verbosity are too prosaic to be high on drama. An exception is an hilarious mano a mano between Nairn and Cadman in which the Prime Minister finds the Westminster system of government not quite as malleable as he thought.

In any earlier novel about endangered youth, The Making of Travis, Bates proved himself an observant and empathetic scribe of human behaviour. In Shafts of Strife the stakes are higher and the narrative bar is not quite cleared – but as visions of history go, it’s far from absurd. More than one democratically elected head of state has led his country towards the abyss.