With Sex Crimes, published in 2003, Paul Thomas explores the theme of gender violence. It is not a novel but a series of seven tales involving sex crimes within the crime/thriller genre. The publisher’s blurb states: “Paul Thomas’s blackly humorous stories explore the unpredictable and sometimes fatal consequences that can occur when sex rears its not-so-ugly head. The author of the ground-breaking series of New Zealand comic thrillers featuring the Maori detective Tito Ihaka (Old School Tie, Inside Dope and Guerilla Season) takes us into a world of lust, deceit, betrayal and elaborate revenge, where nothing is as it seems and even the best-laid plots never unfold quite according to plan. Sex Crimes is seven delicious helpings of irony, intrigue and full-on entertainment from the writer who celebrated Australian woman author Marele Day described as “a master of plot, pace and the killer one-liner”.
Following in the late wake of Valerie Grayland’s Maori detective Hoani Mata, conceived in the 1960s, Paul Thomas would introduce New Zealand’s next Maori detective, Tito Ihaka, in a series of police-procedurals. Thomas’ first three novels, Old School Tie (1994), Inside Dope (1995), Guerilla Season(1996) were “a part tongue-in-cheek sendup of the hard-boiled sub-genre”, as Carolina Miranda and Barbara Pezzotti have remarked in “Foreigners in their own country: The Maori Detective in New Zealand Crime Fiction”, one of the few comparative studies of New Zealand crime writing. Tito Ihaka may be a Maori but in the first three books of the series, he is largely without cultural background. It takes ten chapters of Old School Tie, as Miranda and Pezzotti observe, before Ihaka is actually referenced as Maori. He is also deracinated in more ways than one. While Grayland’s Hoani Mata, has a family and a milieu, Ihaka has neither. His being as a Maori seems more a writer’s or a publisher’s product gimmick, than something intrinsic. In an era of hyper-sensitivity to the Maori-Pakeha demarcation, it is a strange absence. The first Ihaka plots are ‘relentlessly tough yet hilarious’, according to the back-jacket of their collected publication. They feature characters with names like Harold Funke, Al Grills, Caspar Quedley, Amanda Hayhoe, Fred Freckleton, Dermot Looms and Chas Gundry, whose cumulative nominative presence seems to contort the novels, immediately taking them much closer to parody than realism. Thomas’ reliance on daily news for much of the currency of the initial Ihaka novels also tends to age them before their time. They are yesterday’s stories, and too often their details are things we’d prefer to forget rather than revive. In conjunction with the exaggerated characteristics of the secondary cast, the wincing litany of bad fashion and the gawky slang tend to balloon the early Ihaka novels distractingly towards the cartoon (David Herkt in Landfall).