Ian Wedde has reached an age where - well, he's not often asked for ID in liquor stores. He's got 20-plus books of poetry, fiction and essays behind him. And as this engaging novella shows, language still delights and ignites him.

The typically demotic title introduces three world-soiled siblings, children of a dangerously attractive and totally untrustworthy refugee from Nazism who's credited with making New Zealand aware of real coffee and really modern buildings.

Each gets a turn to talk to us, starting with Mick in his inner-city of tinnie house, pub mates and racing results. He's the tenant of his Dad's funny red square house, from which he stumbles out into descending stages of disintegration.

Then comes Veronica, managing to save someone else's life, but not her tour company or her marriage, trying to decide what makes people worth preserving. We end with Sandy, academic of sorts, seducer of sorts, in spite of his "autumn body", looking with equal disenchantment at past and future.

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So the story - stories, actually - accumulate via merging or warring viewpoints. Wedde has written of his poetry, "I tend to cast around like a dog backtracking", and here such multiple movements build a barbed-wire grid of family connections and conflicts.

There are clever shocks, the wounds that families often leave, a number of lives where the best to be hoped for is "I manage".

Settings are emphatically specific: Mick passes Oriental Bay's "whale-impersonating" fountain, notes the bulk of Mt Victoria. Veronica has Napier's Art Deco and the Mission Vineyard. Sandy segues from art-world Germany to Albert Park on graduation day.

All three stories belt along. The tone is punchy, street-smart, accessible. Wedde can find linguistic elegance, or at least interest, in real estate ads and racing reports, the banalities and revelations of dialogue, a sardonic Catechism of Cliches.

He gets the images spot on: the sea sounding (sic) chalky-blue; two tuis, "one of them like a car alarm, the other like a door bell".

Marriages and other relationships often resemble street-fights: "I'd choke the tongue out of his head," one sibling reminisces fondly of another. It's a bit like Maurice Gee on a sugar high. Deeper, more turbid currents surge beneath the crackling surface. Mortality invades. The kindness - or at least the kind intentions - of strangers and the occasional family member imply some hope for redemption.

Emotionally authentic and technically near-consummate. You can ... yes, you can bet on Trifecta's success.

Trifecta
by Ian Wedde
(Victoria University Press $30)

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