Death of An Agent, David McGill

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

DEATH OF AN AGENT is the fourth "kiwi spy story" featuring ex-detective / spycatcher Dan Delaney. Historical crime fiction, based on real-life events this is a series that's been getting better and better, with this outing pleasingly comical in some places, as well as a rip-roaring yarn into the bargain.

Set in 1965, Ru Patterson, NZ's leading broadcaster is organising a protest against US President Johnson's envoy - Henry Cabot Lodge - to pressure New Zealand to send troops, whilst around him, the anti-Vietnam war protests are expanding. When Patterson is found unconscious in a hot tub, beside the body of a young, naked, dead woman - who turns out to have been an undercover Australian agent - things get very messy, with Delaney interfering with the scene to protect a friend, the NZ Intelligence services continue the fight to sideline Patterson, and infiltrate protestor student groups threatening violence. Delaney finds himself dragooned into helping the authorities - which doesn't go down well with Patterson and his daughter, Hinemoa, who just happens to be Delaney's goddaughter. Surprisingly enough, things get even more messy from there with marijuana trafficking, gang violence, complicated affairs of the heart, and a some arson and general mayhem to kick along the plot.

More evident in this outing is a really strong sense of slight tongue in cheek fun. McGill seems to have hit a sweet spot with this plot - which sounds manic - but actually reads really well, and very engagingly. The really interesting aspect of this one in particular is the moral dilemma that Dan's presented by his personal relationship with Ru Patterson and his daughter. There are a few points where the historical information is a tad overdone, leading to a slight case of "could we get back to the mayhem please", but overall, this is a series that's been quietly developing away, creating great historical settings for some fictional (and not so fictional) thriller plots which are all informative, entertaining and well worth the time.

All four books are a series, in that Dan Delaney is the central character in each, but they all could be read as standalones. The plots stand up well on their own, particularly in DEATH OF AN AGENT, helped by it being not that historical that it's too far back to be remembered by some of us.

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Ru Patterson, the country’s leading broadcaster, is organizing protests against President Johnson’s envoy Henry Cabot Lodge, in Wellington to pressure New Zealand to send troops to Vietnam. Dan Delaney is first on the scene of a young naked woman dead in a hot tub and Ru unconscious beside her. Dan interferes with evidence to protect his friend. The NZ Security Intelligence Service continues the deceased agent’s attempts to sideline Patterson and infiltrate students threatening violence, including an anarchist attracted to arson.

Delaney is dragooned into helping the authorities, threatening his personal relationships with Ru and his daughter Hinemoa, Dan’s goddaughter. Hine is a headstrong young drama student mixed up in marijuana trafficking and in mad, crazy love with an older student who treats her no better than the parts they play, Hamlet and Ophelia. With Ru sidelined, Dan is well aware of his duty of care.

Delaney is caught up in gang and police threats against Hine, a police raid on a suspected marijuana dealer, an SIS interrogation, the planting of an incendiary device in a student theatre, an unexpected encounter with Prime Minister Keith Holyoake, student confrontation at Lodge’s airport arrival and an incendiary incident at Parliament, with Special Task Force marksmen surrounding the building. The stability of the ANZUS alliance and Dan’s family life depend on the outcome.

Review Death of An Agent, David McGill
Karen Chisholm
Thursday, July 16, 2020

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