Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Crime of Huey Dunstan

By James McNeish

Professor Chesney, or Ches as he's known to his friends is nearing 70 and reminiscing about a court case he appeared as an expert witness on nearly twenty years earlier. The case of Huey Dunstan got under his skin, consumed him. Dunstan was accused of brutally murdering a man in cold blood, bludgeoning him to death. Yet when psychologist Ches meets Huey he finds it hard to equate the polite, honest young man with this murder. There is no doubt that he did it, but why? Ches looks into the young man's past, and two areas of difficult territory, buried memory and provocation.

This is where the book becomes fascinating as it references a number of high profile New Zealand cases, the Bain murders and the Christchurch Civic Creche child abuse case. Also provocation as a defense is a very topical subject as a result of Clayton Weatherston's use of provocation as a defense for his murder of Sophie Elliot, a defense that ultimately failed, but left the entire country with a sour taste.

This is essentially a courtroom drama, and although it doesn't have action and high drama, it is a thought provoking and compelling read.

Ches, our narrator is pretty unique in that he is blind, so his impressions of people rely on his other senses. This is a gift the author gives the reader, the ability to know someone and their feelings through sound, smell, taste, touch and intuition, minute things that tell so much. The author describes Ches's world incredibly. He's also just damn likeable, as are his supporting cast.

There are also some moments of beautiful self-depreciating humour on the part of the author

"Were I a novelist sitting down to invent a tale of intrigue and mystery, I can't imagine picking a character like Huey Dunstan or devising a plot that relied so much on intuition, not to say guesswork, where logic and a priori reasoning were submerged i so much cottonwool and where the process of deduction from empirical facts led, precisely, nowhere."

This is a wonderful read from a well regarded New Zealand writer, a writer who will turn eighty next year!


Anonymous said...

Vanda - Lovely review! McNeish is a new-to-me author, so I'm going to have to see if I can find some of his work. This book seems really intriguing!

Erin (Homemade Cards by Erin) said...

Looks great.... will have to keep an eye out for it (chuckle chuckle, pun intended).

Mary McCallum said...

Thanks for this Vanda - it sounds fascinating - saw it in the bookshop and turned it over a few times but haven't managed to read it - your review propels me now to do just that