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March 12, 2012 | by  | in Arts Books |
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Interview – Paul Thomas

Salient‘s books editor Kurt Barber interviews Paul Thomas about his new book Death On Demand.

Salient: You’ve said in previous interviews that you consider Ihaka to be a ‘loner’ figure, one who is separated from society but gets involved in situations that aren’t really his business. These are fairly popular character traits in fiction, so what do you think makes Detective Ihaka stand out? 

Paul: Well you’re absolutely right, and it’s been a characteristic of characters in popular fiction going all the way back as far as you want to go really. You went through the cowboy to the private detective, and you’ve now got the maverick cop I suppose, to use the term, because private eyes simply can’t do what they used to do. My view of Ihaka is relatively uncomplicated: I think he has unusual attributes that make him very effective at what he does, coupled with human failings that probably make him relatively appealing. And he’s got a sense of humour which is obviously another thing in his favour.

Salient: Right, sure. So you make him a bit more human than the norm? 

Paul: Yeah, the hero in any kind of action scenario obviously has to be able to look after himself, has to be able to stand up in the face of intimidation and violence and so forth. They’ve got to have certain physical attributes. But I’ve tried to couple that with a character who doesn’t conform to the traditional, highly disciplined, serious minded hero figure— someone who is pretty loose in his private life and behaviour, and whose personal life is a bit of a mess really. And I guess that coupled with the humour, was a nice contrast with his other attributes.

Salient: So why did you decide to come back to Ihaka after so many years? 

Paul: It was a combination of things really; I never intended to back off him for as long as I did. I wrote three novels in a particular style—I guess you could call them sort of comic crime novels, with quite elaborate plots and far-fetched scenarios—and I guess I just wanted to do different things, so I did, and one thing lead to another and I ended up taking a lot longer to get back to Ihaka than I’d first intended. And I guess that along the way I started to become more interested in writing about realistic situations and how comparatively ordinary people who would regard themselves as good people can get into messy criminal situations so it took me a while to come up with a story that worked on both levels if you see what I mean.

Salient: Yeah, because Death on Demand’s got a very different tone to the previous Ihaka novels. 

Paul: Yes it has. In the first book the tone is very detached, and ironic; and those stories are obviously not meant to be taken entirely seriously. I mean, the names of the characters are a bit of a giveaway. And a lot of the characters are quite extreme—even grotesque—and the novel was really trying to put together a crime or thriller to work with a comic novel, and I guess you’d say that Death on Demand is much more traditional in the sense that it’s… I mean I’d like to think that there’s still humour in there, but it’s not the situational and black humour that you had in those early books.

Salient: So how much of yourself do you see in Ihaka? 

Paul: None whatsoever *laughs*. No, I don’t have any pretensions to being an action hero, and I’m probably more careful with what I eat and drink than Ihaka is.

Salient: Was there any pressure in coming back to such an old character? 

Paul: I suppose you always wonder whether people are still interested, or whether they still remember him, and certainly the earlier novels were republished as a trilogy a year or so ago, and that was helpful in terms of bringing Ihaka back in people’s minds. I had a pretty good sense of the character so I didn’t feel it’d be difficult to recapture him, and the only pressure really was wondering whether the sort of novel I wanted to write now would appeal to people who liked the earlier books, because as you said it’s different—there’s a different tone and a different style. So that was always a question. But again I didn’t dwell on that too much, I just got on with it.

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