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Foreigners in their Own Country? The Maori Detective in New Zealand Crime Fiction

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Crime fiction is particularly relevant to the interrogation of contemporary societies, as a genre that once tended towards a quest for singular identity in order to reinforce the status quo has been gradually enlarged into a broader social enquiry. Pakeha writers using Maori as central characters is a particularly revealing choice, along with all the potential pitfalls, for the vital exercise of negotiating identities in a postcolonial context. This article analyses and juxtaposes the deployment of two Maori detectives in New Zealand crime fiction: Hoani Mata (in Valerie Grayland's series published in the 1960s) and Tito Ihaka (the main protagonist of Paul Thomas's series published in the 1990s). The examination of their modus operandi, the types of crimes they investigate, the way in which they interact with people and how colleagues view them provides a frame of reference into New Zealand and its shifting intercultural relations over almost half a century. Ultimately, our analysis of these two series set in different periods of New Zealand history, belonging to two different crime fiction subgenres (the Golden Age 'whodunnit' story and the 'hardboiled' novel), inscribes the arc of an ever-evolving society as it interrogates itself on the changing meaning and values of being a 'New Zealander'.

Keywords: Maori detective; Maori in literature; crime fiction; crime setting; identity in popular culture/literature; multiculturalism; postcolonial literature

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Victoria Universit, New Zealand 2: Victoria University, New Zealand

Publication date: 2011-11-11

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  • The Australasian Journal of Popular Culture is a peer-reviewed journal devoted to the scholarly understanding of everyday cultures. It is concerned with the study of the social practices and the cultural meanings that are produced and are circulated through the processes and practices of everyday life. As a product of consumption, an intellectual object of inquiry, and as an integral component of the dynamic forces that shape societies. The journal will be receptive to articles which focus on Australasian examples, or broader comparative and theoretical questions viewed through an Australasian lens.
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