Press & Reviews
  • Reviews for Death on Demand by Paul Thomas
  • Death on Demand |  Paul Thomas |  Review
Reviews for Death on Demand by Paul Thomas
‘I have to confess; I pulled Paul Thomas' novel off the 'to read' shelf as soon as I returned from a too-short trip to New Zealand, and tore through it. It may be the most Chandlerian detective novel I've read in a long time. This is a compliment, but not in the way you might think.What Death on Demand is not is descriptive of Aotearoa, neither the land nor the cities in which the action takes place. Neighbourhoods are barely sketched in, there's little of the background life, and even individual locations have none of the detail which Chandler uses to give clues about the nature of his characters and the character and the nature of Los Angeles. Nor is it written in the kind of wise-cracking first-person prose, full of evocative similies and wry commentary that translated so well into the mouths of actors like Bogart, or closer to Marlowe himself, Dick Powell or James Garner. Tito Ihaka shares with Marlowe is a healthy disrespect for authority—though unlike Chandler's idealist, he is a realist who has stayed in his job in the police, because, as one character puts it, what else would he do? Plus, Tito is a Maori, and as such has a healthy outsider's scepticism about the pakeha who run New Zealand. Scepticism, in Marlowe's case, is idealism smashed on the shores of reality, but Ihaka was never an idealist. This seems to appeal to women; like Marlowe he sometimes has them throwing themselves at him, but where Marlowe, ever the schoolboyish knight of Chandler's imagination, usually keeps them at arm's length, always aware of the potential for ulterior motives, Ihaka again is more realistic. But what made me think of Chandler was the depth of the story, the way it works back in time, through layers of society, through people who are the people they seem, and through intense corruption, personal and institutional, at every layer. Thomas' picture of New Zealand society is drawn through the aspirations and limitations of the characters, through the goals of success they've been set within their society, and the brilliant way every personal conversation can have many layers. This works best when Ihaka is involved, and as I write this, it strikes me that he bears more relation to Hammett's Continental Op than to Chandler's Marlowe, but Ihaka is, in effect, a sounding-board for all sections of the society he protects.Not least in the police department itself. I'm partial to tales of the infighting within the police, the way the bureaucracy often works against crime-solving, especially as one moves up the social strata. In that sense New Zealand is a small town, and you very much get the sense that to some cops, 'it's Chinatown', that, as in the best hard-boiled fictions, many crimes cannot be solved, or if solved, cannot be punished. Ihaka is brought back to Auckland from exile in Greytown (both places I know) because a well-connected man Ihaka was convinced had staged his wife's accidental death wants to speak to him. Ihaka's refusal to leave the man alone was what had hime shipped to the Wairapa in the first place, that and knocking out his police nemesis in a men's room and pissing, literally, all over him. Now he's back, and he's looking for an anonymous hitman who did commit that murder, and others besides. The story is as compicated as the best of Chandler, with as many twists; I thought of The Little Sister, Farewell My Lovely, and The Lady In The Lake at various times, and that is high praise indeed. As I said, it's told in the third person, with the narration jumping times and characters, but the prose works best when Ihaka's on stage, and he's drawn well enough to get the reader identifying with him, and making it almost like the first-person when you see through Marlowe's eyes. The first three Ihaka novels appeared in the mid-1990s; is so good I'd lobby for Bitter Lemon to bring them all back into print in this country.' - Irresistible Targets
'Tito Ihaka, the maverick Maori cop, dances through a minefield of police politics, old grudges, blackmail, and gangs as he hunts a faceless killer in Auckland. Filled with helter-skelter storylines, witty dialogue, and captivating characters.' - Herald on Sunday
‘Finished reading Paul Thomas's 'Death on Demand' on flight to NY. Big, bruising police procedural set in New Zealand. Excellent.' - Ian Rankin on Twitter
‘Six years ago, friends Adrian, Christopher, Fraser and Jonathan go on vacation together as they have done every year for fifteen years regardless of family and work needs. This time they go to Waiheke Island where they discuss solving their personal problems by hiring a hit man.Three months later, a car kills Joyce while she jogged in St. Heliers, Auckland. Not long after that a mugger slices the throat of Roger in Ponsonrby, Auckland. Nine months ago, Evelyn is murdered in Auckland. As more deaths occur to include an undercover cop, Detective Sergeant Tito Ihaka investigates what appears to be a serial killer for hire; at the same time Auckland Central PD wants to exile the Maori police officer allegedly for his unruly behavior and appearance. The latest Ihaka New Zealand police procedural (see Guerilla Season) is a fantastic investigative tale. The taut leisurely-paced storyline is filled with twists as the always in trouble with the brass protagonist works the case and deals with racism from his peers and superiors in his brusque manner.' - MBR Bookwatch
‘It's great to welcome back - after far too long an absence - Paul Thomas' marvellous creation, Maori police detective Tito Ihaka, a one-man 'awkward squad' if ever there was one. Death on Demand is a complex, fast-paced, brilliantly observed thriller about dodgy cops and violent gangsters which proves that New Zealand is far more than just an ideal backdrop for 'The Hobbit'. This is crime fiction red in tooth and claw, stuffed with amazing characters, great dialogue and enough plot twists to require a corkscrew, all done with the iron control of a master story-teller totally in control of his material. Don't be put off by the 25-page Prologue; everything becomes brutally clear in the end and one can only hope that Paul Thomas' earlier crime novels get reprinted soon.' - Mike Ripley
‘The hard-boiled thriller is sustained by superior claims to authenticity. Even when Raymond Chandler was contemplating calling his hero Mallory he still insisted that the streets in his novels were meaner than those in classic detective fiction. Authenticity works best in the hard-boiled thriller when the writer understands that it is needed to describe a world that offers inauthentic plastic existence. America for many years represented this future, which is why we believed in their hard-boiled authenticity. The authenticity of the narrator/hero enjoyed a distance from the artificiality around him or her. This gap does not exist in the Cotswolds, which is why the English have Morse. Incredibly, readers believed in the private eye with cricket team ideals. We assumed that Chandler perhaps resembled his hero. He must have been similar, the kind of man who would stand steadfast in a difficult situation. Hard-boiled thrillers are written in a style that suggests tough guys behind the keyboard. Cynical lawyers like George V Higgins remembered the transcripts of interviews with their clients and reproduced it as noir crime. James Ellroy insisted he was authentic because he was honest about seedy sexual obsessions. This need for authenticity spread to other crime fiction. Women authors, like Patricia Cornwell, used their previous experience as pathologists and wrote novels about crime busting medics. Of course, time renders most attempts at authenticity as inadequate. Philip Marlowe is now a male fantasy that embarrasses modern men and those who read ‘Death On Demand' will afterwards be less susceptible to tales of strong potentially decent men redeemed by a virtuous or potentially virtuous female. James Ellroy may have to re-think his definition of authenticity. Paul Thomas has a jaundiced eye and no superior women exist in his novel to rescue the independent male. Neither is the independent male capable of emerging on to a more moral plateau. The hero of ‘Death On Demand', policeman Tito Ikaha, may keep the rest of the callow Auckland police force at bay but the result is not a testament to his integrity. At the end of the book, we leave Ikaha ready to cause damage he is unable to resist. For a hard-boiled thriller, the ending is very subtle, a real highlight and justification alone for continuing through what is a quite complicated plot. But well before the ending there is plenty of enjoyment for the reader. The plot fits together neatly and the characterization is solid. Paul Thomas is a cynic and he is best at describing weakness. When his characters have strength it usually manifests itself as loyalty but nobody should knock loyalty. In the bleak modern world described by Thomas, it is all we have. The dialogue is not state of the art but there is a complicated plot to explain. And it may be me. I suspect I was reading New Zealand confrontations with an American accent that automatically appears in my head when I read hard-boiled crime. Paul Thomas has become addictive to New Zealand readers and this book demonstrates how.' - Crime Chronicles
‘This newest novel by Paul Thomas opens with brief flashbacks going back 14 years but swiftly brings us to the present, after short chapters (and a prologue) from several different points of view, introducing the reader to all the important players, from, among others, the members of the "boys' club" (a small group of men who'd known each other from their boarding school days through their various marriages and divorces, with varying degrees of financial success). When we come to the present day, we meet several members of the Auckland police, past and present: First and foremost, D.I. Johan Van Roon, and the man who had at one time been his mentor: Maori cop Tito Ihaka, described as "unkempt, overweight, intemperate, unruly, unorthodox and profane" and "the brown Sherlock Holmes," the latter having been banished to the hinterlands several years ago after a case which he had stubbornly insisted was a murder, not, as everyone else was convinced, a 'simple' hit-and-run accident. A spate recent of killings brings Ihaka back into the fold, after a fashion, when a former boss is promoted to Auckland District Commander; it soon emerges that there's a hired killer in the picture, and unsurprisingly more deaths ensue, in rapid succession. The author was born in the UK but has lived for most of his life in New Zealand, which is the setting for his novels. The only hurdle for me in this book was with the local vernacular/regional jargon/idiom. This was soon overcome, I hasten to add, by the complex and absorbing plot, well presented, that soon made the book difficult to put down. There is also a lot of quiet humor, e.g., description of a man who wears "T-shirts with slogans intended to cause offence like 'So many Christians, so few lions.' - MWBookreview
‘Death on Demand by Paul Thomas is the fourth novel featuring a Maori cop, Tito Ihaka, the other three being Old School Tie, Inside Dope and Guerilla Season. Curiously, there's been a fifteen year hiatus during which our intemperate maverick has been living in exile in the Wairarapa. He enjoyed a protected status in Auckland until he insisted a local wealthy businessman had arranged for his wife to be killed. When he rose to the bait and beat a fellow detective for racially abusing him, the price of him remaining in the force was relocation. Now the man he suspected of murder is dying and calls his would-be nemesis back to hear his confession. His return triggers a number of deaths. With this sudden increase in police workload, Ihaka is persuaded to stay on to help out. But not in the original case. Having heard the confession, he's now a witness. His ex-colleagues insist in taking that on. This leaves him with the death of a young man. It looks like a gang hit. Later the body of a woman turns up with almost identical injuries. Then a somewhat notorious fixer is shot. Auckland is a happening city when it comes to violent crime. There are two allied issues surrounding this book. The first is the apparent fascination with death in general and murder in particular. There's quite a long prologue in which we review a parade of deaths. Each one is detailed separately. The fact we are shown these people dying is evidence their deaths are related but it's not until quite a significant way into the book that we understand the significance. There's nothing wrong with this narrative structure. The hook is set early and we rise to the bait. But it does set the tone of the book which belies New Zealand's image as a land where there are more sheep than people and some of those people get to dress up as hobbits and orcs when the film crews come into town. This is a hyper-real version of this twin spit of southern land in which most of the people we meet have a darker side. Even the hero speculates the most likely reason he became a police officer was to inoculate him against the crime bug. Except he's hardly the most law-abiding of police officers. All of which brings us to the second issue. I have on a number of occasions this last year been moved to comment on the increasing amorality of lead characters in books and films. It seems the level of “anti” ness in anti-hero has been increasing in power. Whereas the early examples in the last century tended to be part-time criminals with redeeming features, the more recent characters have become more completely criminal, not to say thoroughly evil. We're not just expected to accept thieves, but also contract killers and other serious gangland felons, as heroes. I'm not so uncomfortable with plots requiring protagonists to kill in self-defence. The fact they may provoke the bad guys into attacking and so justify the killings is broadly acceptable — it would be even more so if the books and films would also show the trials in which the self-defence pleas were successful. But I grow increasingly unhappy when the protagonists literally fight fire with fire. There have been a number of recent examples of “heroes” finding the need to get their self-defensive strikes in first. Vigilanteism is an increasingly common motif with stone-cold killers keeping their neighbours safe by taking out the predatory criminals around them. This book has a police officer prepared to do deals with some of the criminals he meets in order to get justice done. Indeed, it would be fair to call him relentless in his pursuit of what he considers justice. He may not always like himself very much — not many people do like him — but he's remarkably effective. All his superiors have to do is look at the big picture and overlook the transgressions on the way to the solution of the high-profile cases and the unmasking of criminals whether they be the common or garden thugs or members of the wealthy elite. After all, it's the arrests and public trials that earn the public's gratitude and support. Solving crimes is a vote-winner for politicians and when they are happy, the senior police officers can relax. No system is free from corruption. So whether you will enjoy this book depends on your approach to ethically-challenged heroes. Death on Demand is a great piece of writing. There's a vividness and power about the prose and plot (once it gets going) that drives through to the end. But you're invited to support a police officer who bends all the rules in the book and, if the need arises, throws the book away, to get the right result. He's a vigilante with a badge. Perhaps societies always need some officers like him who can get things done, but should they be heroes? Your choice.' - Opionator
‘Tito Ihaka possesses all the qualities that make a police procedural protagonist: street smarts, an insolent manner, an appreciation for the female form, and a facility with snappy banter, most of which would be unrepeatable in polite company. Although you know he's a dedicated lawman, he's always just this side of the line that separates good guys and bad guys. Yallop bookmarked the paperback and put it aside. “Why are you a cop, Ihaka? We both know it's not for the money.” Ihaka shrugged. “A bloke's got to do something.” “That's it?” “And I'm good at it.” “Yeah, but you'd be just as good playing for the other team—and much better rewarded.” “…a brainbox like you doesn't ask a question without knowing the answer, so you tell me: why am I a cop?” Yallop leaned back, pink with admiration for his own perceptiveness. “Becoming a cop was the only way to prevent yourself becoming a crim. As you're well aware, you've got deep-seated antisocial tendencies. If you weren't a cop, sooner or later they would've come to the fore. So the answer to the question is: self-awareness.” These qualities are also what landed Ihaka in a heap of trouble. When we meet him, he's been out of range for five years—banished from Auckland to the “heartland” after ruffling a few too many influential feathers on one particular case. Oh, and after coldcocking a colleague who mouthed off to him about it. As Firkitt unzipped, Ihaka threw a hard, fast elbow, spearing it into the side of his jaw, just below the ear. Firkitt bounced off the wall, his knees gave way and he slid face first into the trough of the urinal. Ihaka unbuttoned his jeans and took a long leisurely piss. The drainage flow encountered an obstacle, but the obstacle didn't seem to notice. Ihaka washed and dried his hands and walked out of the toilet. Firkitt still hadn't moved. You get the idea. Thing is, that one particular case still eats at Ihaka, because he knows he wasn't wrong in believing that the well-connected businessman—named Christopher Lilywhite for goodness sake—really did have his wife murdered. So when Lilywhite, now ill and near death, confesses that much, Ihaka takes some consolation. But then: “So who killed her?” Ihaka asks. “There's the catch,” Lilywhite replies, “I don't know.” Now, being right isn't enough for Tito Ihaka. He's determined to find out who really killed Joyce Lilywhite—more to satisfy his own curiosity and his need to close the case properly than to clear his name. (You always have the sense that middle-aged DS Ihaka has gone as far as he's going on the organizational chart.) Once he starts poking around, things become complicated, and there are times you'll need a scorecard to keep the players straight. Cops, criminals, informers, gangland bosses, the idle rich and their bored wives—it's a vast network in which the good guys and the bad guys share an awful lot of personality traits and quite a few mutual acquaintances. No one is ever as clean or as corrupt as they might seem. Paul Thomas gives the police procedural a twist with his Maori detective; but Tito Ihaka isn't a gimmick, he's the real deal. The New Zealand setting will be new to most U.S. readers, and the dialog is salted with local turns of phrase that are fresh and funny. Fans of Tito Ihaka would say Death on Demand is long overdue. The last Tito Ihaka novel, Guerilla Season, came out in 1996. Those new to the series will be happy to make Ihaka's acquaintance; he's an interesting guy to spend time with.' - Fresh Meat
‘Foul-mouthed, ungovernable and not above meeting racist abuse with physical assault Maori detective Tito Ihaka of the Auckland police is a splendid creation. As a reader, you can't help wincing at the scrapes he gets himself into but you can't take your eyes off him either. He returns, after a long absence, in Death On Demand (Bitter Lemon Press, £8.99) by Paul Thomas. Ihaka has been exiled to the sticks, or rather the "wop-wops," having pushed too hard on a case involving the death of a rich man's wife. The detective's dad was a communist trade union militant and Tito himself is not without a touch of class war in his makeup. But when the rich husband himself demands to speak to his former persecutor, the closed case takes an extraordinary turn. Those familiar with the dry Kiwi wit will know what to expect from Thomas's dialogue. It may be occasionally shocking but it's never disappointing. It's early in the year but this is already on my list of 2013's best.' - Morning Star

'This sequel to "Death on Demand" brings the reader back to New Zealand and the Central Police Dept. There are a number of cops who alternate in prominence in the plot, among them District Commander Finbar McGrail, who, we are told, became Auckland District Commander and developed an appreciation for wine pretty much at the same time. McGrail is still haunted by a 27-year-old case, his first, when as a new D.I. he investigated the murder of a 17-year-old girl, Polly Stenson. The investigation comes to a halt less than a year later when the police still have no viable suspects in her killing, coming to the conclusion that she was merely at the wrong place at the wrong time. Only a year from retirement, he is approached one day by a man who was present at the murder scene at the time in question, and given a lead as to who might have killed Polly. 

We then meet former D.I. Johan Van Roon, and the man who had at one time been his mentor: Maori cop Tito Ihaka, described as "unkempt, overweight, intemperate, unruly, unorthodox and profane" and "the brown Sherlock Holmes," the latter having been banished to the hinterlands several years ago after a case which he had stubbornly insisted was a murder, not, as everyone else was convinced, a 'simple' hit-and-run accident. Now a Detective Sergeant, he is asked by McGrail to follow up on the new lead. Van Roon has left the force in disgrace, now a pariah in the police force and working, when he can find employment, as a private investigator and security consultant. He is hired to find a man who disappeared right after the Stenson murder, for a very attractive fee. Events occur in such a way that both Ihaka and Van Roon reopen the cold case to try to find the murderer. 

At the same time, Ihaka starts a completely different investigation, one that involves the death of his father, "a union firebrand and renegade Marxist," decades ago, thought to have been of natural causes. To make things even more complex, a man with whom his father was involved died in a supposed accident one week later. Coincidence? He thinks not. 

The author was born in the UK but has lived for most of his life in New Zealand, which is the setting for his novels. The biggest hurdle for me in this book was with the local vernacular/regional jargon/idiom, as well as the many political discussions, making it somewhat slow reading. But the complex plot was very interesting, and on the whole the book was enjoyable.' MBR Bookwatch


‘If you haven't considered New Zealand a worthwhile venue for crime novels, think again. In a world way different to that of Ngaio Marsh, Paul Thomas gives us everything we could wish for: a great central cop - Tito Ihaka, a giant-size Maori, who finds himself up against not only the NZ underworld but a serial murderer (or is the killer simply rubbing out those who can identify him?), an unidentified cop killer (failed), a gigolo, some rich untouchables and, of course, opposition from within the force. Ihaka has been recalled from several years in a rural backwater, having blotted his copybook in a previous tale (something he is all too prone to doing) to untangle what's going on - and, if there's a fault with this finely told tale, it is that, by God, it's tangled, with too many characters; one of those books you have to keep skipping back to find who was whom. Don't let that stop you reading a splendidly written, constantly engaging, deliberately puzzling, always gripping story. Ihaka is wonderful, his fellow-cops and the crims (not always the same people) well delineated, and the women both femme and fatale.' - Crime Time
‘Ned Kelly Award–winner Thomas takes his time letting readers in on what he's got up his sleeve in his fourth police procedural starring Maori Det. Sgt. Tito Ihaka (after 1996's Guerilla Season), but the deferred gratification is well worth it. A prologue opens 14 years in the past in Greytown, New Zealand. Eight years later, four male friends, a property developer, a lawyer, a dentist, and a businessman, are enjoying a regular weekend away together on Waiheke Island. A discussion of marital discontent ends with a joke about using the phone directory to call a hit man. Three months later, Joyce, presumably the wife of one of the four pals, is fatally struck by a car while jogging in an Auckland suburb. More people die, one way or another, as the action moves to the present. Ihaka, who must deal with prejudice from within the force, investigates. A twisty plot and an unusual lead combine to make this a winner, and even newcomers will hope that the wait for the next installment will be less than 17 years.'(Starred Review) - Publishers Weekly
'It's the stuff the best gangster films are made of, perfectly composed, with the action kept in the realm of reality and a steady, tense wire of human pathos running down its spine.' - The Coast
‘Death on Demand sees the welcome return of Tito Ihaka, a maverick Maori cop, who this time goes after an elusive hit man. The unfamiliar locations are as compelling as the actions.' - Sunday Times-Seven
‘Maori detective Tito Ihaka was banished to a rural backwater for his aggressive pursuit of Lilywhite, a man whose wife was killed by a hit-and-run driver, but is called back to Auckland when Lilywhite asks to see him. On his deathbed, Lilywhite confesses to paying for the murder, and tells Ihaka of other deaths that he suspects may be by the same hand. As Ihaka begins to interview persons of interest, a series of deaths follow. One aspect of particular concern is the rumour of a crooked cop in town, which may explain the exposure and shooting of a police under-cover agent. Ihaka's in-your-face style stirs up some dark waters, and his unpopularity with some Auckland police mean that any mistakes will ensure ignominy and early return to exile. There have been three previous Tito Ihaka novels, sufficient to establish him as 'unkempt, overweight, intemperate, unruly, unorthodox and profane'. In DEATH ON DEMAND, he has been away for five years, lost weight, and improved his behaviour; apart from an initial scene where he decks an unsympathetic colleague, his bad conduct is not too evident. His Maori heritage is also downplayed, and barely rates a mention. Possibly the author is disinclined to tire those who are already familiar with Ihaka from earlier books, but a first-time reader is likely to find little remarkable about the protagonist, outside of his reputation. An alternative explanation of the limited space devoted to character development is the amount of plot needing to be fitted in. This is indeed substantial, necessitating several interruptions to refer back to check names. Thomas also likes to give minor characters the opportunity to explain their past actions in detail through several pages of back story. In so far as the bent cop aspect of the story is concerned, the author has the usual problem, in that the reader would be confused if introduced to too many potential candidates, and with only a few to choose from misdirection is needed to sustain the suspense until the final pages. With a central character of so much potential, however, one can't help feeling a little disappointed that Thomas has not made more of him. And despite all the murders, there is little generated by way of suspense. But despite that, DEATH ON DEMAND moves along very smartly, the action is non-stop, the protagonist entertaining enough to hold the attention, and the New Zealand setting provides a dimension of interest. It would be just the thing for a medium-haul flight.' - Reviewing the Evidence
‘A husband's offhand remark about hiring a hit man loses its humor when someone offers to take care of the task. The Auckland, New Zealand, case was never solved, and only Maori DS Tito Ihaka suspected the moneyed husband. Ihaka's rough edges and zeal effectively doomed him, and six years ago, he was reassigned to the Wellington area. Now, new revelations indicate that Ihaka's instincts were right; he is brought back to reopen the cold case. Before long, things turn hot as a complicated case involving grifters and shifting identities means more victims will fall. VERDICT New Zealand's irascible cop Tito Ihaka has been MIA since Thomas's last series entry in 1996 (Guerilla Season), and his return pleases on so many levels. Thomas is a past winner of the Ned Kelly Award, and this one looks to be a future nominee as well.' - Library Journal
  • Author avatar
    Francois Von Hurter
  • Death on DemandPaul ThomasReview