Vintage Read: Came a Hot Friday, by Ronald Hugh Morrieson
This book is so much fun! Set in Tainuia Junction, it's the story of two conmen, Wes Pennington and Cyril Kidman, who land on the town in their beloved "cream coloured Chevrolet sedan" ready to embark on their next scam. It transpires that the townsfolk are more than a match for the two men.
There's a regular rogues' gallery of characters, each more colourful than the last" drinkers, gamblers, womanisers and a bad guy to boot! We become familiar with all the hotels and gambling spots, including a woolshed in the middle of nowhere. The book opens with an arson.
Needless to say, the scam goes wrong, compounded by twists and turns in the plot and a lot of meddling from the locals. The denouement has a showdown and introduces the Te Whakinga Kid, a Maori Zorro-like figure complete with Spanish accent, completely out of left field! It's hard to believe that the author didn't have Billy T James in mind when he created the character (the book was published in 1964), but he was perfectly cast in the 1985 movie.
The strength of this book is that it's simply a damn good story. There's not much character development or analysis. Further, Morrieson chooses instead "not to analyse but illustrate the anti-Puritan underside of New Zealand small town life". And illustrate he did!
Morrieson lived his whole life in Hawera. His first two books, this and The Scarecrow, were first published in Australia to immediate success. He was, however, largely unknown in New Zealand in his lifetime, despite being championed by Maurice Shadbolt and CK Stead. He confided in Shadbolt that he feared he "would be one of those poor buggers who get discovered when they're dead". And he was right.
Even so, I urge you to discover him now!