I was supposed to launch this novel a week or so ago, but due to being in ‘self isolation’ I missed the launch.
Maggie’s Launch Speech for John’s novel ‘Dark Empire’
Dark Empire is the work of a Katherine Mansfield devotee. I can’t imagine anyone here today who has not read or heard of ‘At the Bay’, undoubtedly Mansfield’s most well-known short story. Famed not just for its location, but what have become the legendary characters, the Burnell Family (arguably Mansfield’s own family fictionalised), and too the malevolent, mysterious, Mr and Mrs Harry Kember. If you listen out this afternoon, you may hear Jonathan Trout shouting out in the bay or perhaps he’s here with you all.
John Horrocks has had the audacity to take some of these iconic characters, and forge new lives for them beyond Mansfield’s imaginings, out of the bay and into the seedy heart of Wellington in the early 20th century. The narrator is straight from the classical, laconic, Chandler book, except rather than hardboiled, we have returned Boer War serviceman turned detective. A farmer at heart, tall, possibly handsome (sound a wee bit familiar?), who is shacking up with a feisty red headed journalist who writes for Truth (thoughts of Robin Hyde)…
Together, if not fearlessly, then between cups of tea and the occasional slug of whisky, they set out to solve the mystery of the man who drowned just off Somes Island. I’m not giving anything away as this is the opening compelling prologue. In their scoop, come politicians, brothel owners, a local gym, dodgy financial investments, corrupt police, prisoners on Somes Island, the well-respected (oh no) Burnell family and the dastardly Kembers. Lots of hat tips to Katherine Mansfield for the discerning and endless fascinating social and historical facts woven in to enlighten and enliven. This is not downtown Cuba Street with a bucket fountain, and Jamie Lee Ross is beginning to look like a lightweight.
The origins of this dark and seedy story began with the author’s keen interest in local history and he’s cleverly combined his passion for KM along with his fascination with therapeutic spas (his poetry collection) to craft a compelling and entertaining crime novel. So many interesting details woven in, relating to the boys overseas and the men who stayed behind, and the men interned on Somes. It is the early 1900’s and this is Wellington, warts and all. I’m certain Katherine Mansfield would be chuckling and applauding, although possibly she might take umbrage about Stanley Burnell being caught up in the scandal.
I’m so disappointed not to be here today to read these words and to congratulate John and wish his novel well.