Scoop Review of Books

Guarding Our Health

Book Review
The Unconventional Career of Dr Muriel Bell by Diana Brown (Otago Universith Press, $35)
Reviewed by Judith Morrell Nathan

murielbell-web2This is an authoritative biography of a significant New Zealand scientist.  Even though I heard of Muriel Bell in my childhood in Dunedin, I had no idea of the range of her work until I read this book. Her career was unconventional for her day in that few women in the 1920s studied medicine, and very few indeed carried on to a doctorate in medicine and a career in research.  Furthermore, when she married, her husband managed their domestic life and she mostly retained her maiden name and continued to advance her career.  Her second husband lived most of the time in Wellington while she remained in Dunedin. She had no children.  From a 21st-century perspective, none of this seems unconventional: I must admit I was expecting a more Bohemian story.

This book is careful to mention the various specialties and research links of the many worldwide scholars that Dr Bell interacted with and learned from.   Footnotes abound, but surprisingly there is no bibliography so if, for example, you want to find out what “Preston Lady Doctor” refers to, you have to scroll back through the footnotes to find the first mention of it.  The book is full of names that mean nothing to a general reader today, important though they would be to a scholarly reader to establish just what Dr Bell’s own contribution was.  Amongst the unknown international names are well known New Zealanders such as Sir Charles Hercus, Sir John Walsh and her friend Dr Elizabeth (Bess) Gregory, respectively deans of the Otago Medical, Dental and Home Science schools.  She was also friends with Peter Fraser and Millicent Baxter, but the author was unable to find out much about her personal life.

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Q&A: Historian Vincent O’Malley

Q&A: Vincent O’Malley
Interviewed by Vaughan Rapatahana

Kia ora Vincent.

Tēnā koe mō tāu pukapuka. Ka nui te pai tēnei mahi.

Vincent O'Malley (source: BWB Books)

Vincent O’Malley (source: BWB Books)

VR: Let’s start at the top. The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800 -2000 is a massive book and a mighty indictment of the ways in which Pākehā grabbed the land off and of Māori; a systematic snatching that of course has had and continues to have serious ramifications for many Māori today. What are the positive flow-on effects stemming from this important book, that you are experiencing yourself?

Vincent: The response to the book has been phenomenal right from the day we launched it back in October 2016. That was at the Waahi Pā poukai in Huntly. I handed over the first official copy to Kīngi Tuheitia and wandered around the back of the whare where a big crowd was gathering. I wondered what was happening. It turned out they were already queuing to get their own copies of the book and so I spent the next three or four hours signing hundreds of books. It was a huge privilege to be invited to launch the book on such an important date in the Kīngitanga calendar and to see the way in which it has been embraced by Tainui has been amazing. I also really hoped the book would speak to Pākehā about the need to own their history and again the reception has been remarkable. At times it has felt less like a book and more like I’m part of some kind of social movement.

bwb8358_tgw_cover_01At a personal level, I guess my profile as a writer and a historian has increased and I’ve done dozens of public talks over the past couple of years in all kinds of different places and forums. And my message is always that the New Zealand Wars were defining conflicts in our history. They are part of our story and we need to know this history, and ensure our rangatahi learn it at school. I have done lots of school visits myself in this time and I know young people really get why this history matters to them and their communities. In some respects they are leading the way for their elders.    

VR: As a corollary, what are the bad effects – if any – arising from both the ongoing publicity surrounding this book, as well as from those who may have read it? Do you still sight ignorant comments, encounter any racist epithets? If so, how to handle suchlike?

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Q&A: True Crime writer Scott Bainbridge

Q&A: Scott Bainbridge
Interviewed by Vaughan Rapatahana

VR: Why does your latest book, The Missing Files, have only some new cases, i.e. why is there rather a lot of repetition of cases from your previous two books on missing Kiwis, namely Without Trace (2005) and Still Missing (2008)?

Scott Bainbridge is one of New Zealand’s foremost investigative and True Crime authors. His first two books; Without Trace and Still Missing about missing persons, led to several cold-cases being re-opened, and inspired the acclaimed TVNZ series, The Missing. In his third book; Shot in the Dark, Bainbridge accessed old murder files to examine unsolved NZ murders of the 1920s and 30s, dispelling decades-old myths and uncovering hidden truths. His latest book is The Missing Files.

Scott Bainbridge is one of New Zealand’s foremost investigative and True Crime authors. His first two books; Without Trace and Still Missing about missing persons, led to several cold-cases being re-opened, and inspired the acclaimed TVNZ series, The Missing. In his third book; Shot in the Dark, Bainbridge accessed old murder files to examine unsolved NZ murders of the 1920s and 30s, dispelling decades-old myths and uncovering hidden truths. His latest book is The Missing Files.

Scott: When I re-visited those two earlier books and the television series, The Missing, which followed on from them, I realised that there had been progress since then, across several of the cases. For example, in the Marion Granville case, her own Mum had no idea that Marion was on heroin, and was dealing in it too…

I also now have less of a closed shop reaction from the NZ Police. I obtained far more details.

So, my new book is an update from these earlier books.

More, I feel that I have now moved on from these cases.

VR: ‘Realistically’, for which cases from The Missing Files do you see any resolution? For example, the cases of Heidi Charles? Sydney Patrick Fisk? Craig Hampton, all of which I found rather intriguing.

Scott: I had a meeting with Missing Persons Bureau last month and we had what is termed ‘anniversary reviews’ of certain cases, yet – unlike previously – there was no new information forthcoming from any source as a result of this new book.

However, in some cases there has been some progress. For example, a whānau desire to resolve the case. The Wharton whānau want to find Betty. The belief is that indeed she is buried on a Tatuanui farm property.

About Heidi Charles, I have no idea. There is still a strong lead in the tale of her husband attending a boy scout camp and supposedly threatening his son there that he would do to him (the son) what he did to his mother, although the son has no such recollection about this comment. Heidi may well have left Rotorua willingly – after all she did have NZ$400, which would be worth several thousand dollars back then (1977)…

VR: Was there perhaps a serial killer in Rotorua? For example, what about the case of Olive Walker?

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I, Me, Mine

Book Review
Mini Whinny: Happy Birthday to Me Written by Stacy Gregg and illustrated by Ruth Paul (Scholastic, $17.99)
Reviewed by Melinda Szymanik

mini-whinnyIt’s all about Mini Whinny! This charming picture book is about a rather self-absorbed little pony who makes a very important discovery about the benefits of a joy shared.

All the horses are excited by the birthday party preparations going on their stables, except for young Mini. If you are a horse born in this part of the world, your birthdate is automatically designated August 1st. All the pretty decorations, the fun party games and the delicious birthday cake, which look oh, so wonderful, must be shared with every other horse and pony.  However, the idea of sharing her birthday with all the other horses does not sit at all well with Mini.  Just this once she wants to have this special day to herself. She devises a clever plan to achieve her goals, but in the process discovers one very important thing. But all is not lost…

Appealing, soft illustrations in youthful birthday party tones, perfectly express Mini’s emotional journey. Her annoyance and frustration, her stubbornness, her scheming and subsequent disappointment when her plans don’t turn out as she expects. I especially loved how Mini Whinny is playing with her own ‘my little ponies’ on the front end-papers. Despite her naughtiness, it’s impossible not to fall in love with her irrepressible spirit, and parents and children alike will recognise how seductive and overwhelming the whole idea of a birthday party can be for a youngster.

Together, the text and illustrations neatly capture the little pony’s petulance – ‘Mine’, ‘Mine’, ‘Mine,’ she starts every sentence, as she goes about putting her plan into action – and her dawning realisation that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all. I enjoyed the sly and not so sly nods to the language of the horse world – for example  the name ‘Palomina’ for one of the key adult horse characters, and the phrase, ‘as the horses hit the hay’ when they (nearly) all turn in for the night. This is a great first book for the emerging horse lover in your family, and the perfect story for all those children still getting to grips with how birthday parties work, even when it’s their own.

Lives in Fugue

Book Review
A Change of Key by Adrienne Jansen (Escalator Press, $28)
Reviewed by Judith Morrell Nathan

change-of-key-201018-001Adrienne Jansen, a Wellingtonian, teaches on the creative programme at Whitireia Polytechnic. She and a group of Whitireia colleagues and students founded and run the Escalator Press which published this book.

With years of experience as an ESOL teacher, Jansen has worked extensively with immigrants to New Zealand and written for and about them.  She has used her experience to create a diverse cast of migrants for this novel and for its predecessor, The Score.  She has also written some non-fiction such as Migrant Journeys, which was based on conversations with immigrant taxi drivers.

It is not necessary to have read The Score to enjoy A Change of Key which tells its story against a background of the difficulties that migrants, divorced from their inherited culture can encounter in adjusting to our country, from housing to employment to understanding idiomatic English.  Most of the characters live in a block of council flats, several off the same corridor.  They have varied reasons that drove them to New Zealand, from Portugal, Bulgaria, Serbia, Iraq or Sudan. An Indian taxi driver and a Polish bookseller also feature in the story.  Some of them have deep personal secrets based on traumatic experiences that almost broke them psychologically and drove them deliberately to seek “the ends of the earth”. This is particularly so for Marko, the Bulgarian violinist who is the main character and also for Stefan, the Portuguese piano tuner who makes a lot of efforts to get Marko’s life back on track.

This is not a dark, heavy-going novel; rather it is a very readable, worthwhile, multicultural mystery story that revolves around a series of issues that Marko and his neighbours are grappling with. Who has accused Marko of being a former KGB spy?  How did the accuser find out about the encounters that lie behind this accusation?  What, if anything, should he do about it?  Do the neighbours believe Marko’s version of events? Why did he leave Bulgaria?

In a subplot, the residents plan and carry out various activities designed to stop a threatened rent increase that would prevent many of them continuing to live there.  Music plays a significant part in the story, as intimated in the title, with several characters playing a variety of instruments together, but at times it brings back memories that are too painful for some of the individuals to continue playing.

There are some unlikely touches, for example hauling grand pianos up to the fourth floor for Stefan to repair.  But these are details.  They do not detract from the fact that this is an unusual novel dealing with migrants – a topical New Zealand issue – and I would recommend reading it.