Personal diary entries from many years ago played a key role in helping Paekākāriki author David McGill write his latest thriller.

In recent years McGill has written four New Zealand-based novels on the adventures of a former detective called Dan Delaney.

But for fifth novel, The Manger, the Mikdash and the Mosque, which has just been released, Delaney is in Jerusalem, in 1975, on a family holiday when things go horribly wrong from the moment they arrive.

Helping frame the novel was McGill's own visit to Israel in 1972 to interview a blind Christian Arab girls' choir, in Bethlehem, on behalf of a London-based magazine the TVTimes.

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The interview was about generating some publicity before the choir went to London as part of a televised Christmas carols event.

Daily diary entries from the visit, which featured many sacred sites, were McGill's principal resource as he wrote his book, as well as many images from photographer Derry Brabbs, who accompanied him on the assignment.

David McGill in Jerusalem in 1972.
David McGill in Jerusalem in 1972.

"The useful thing was that I wrote down what I saw.

"I don't like writing about places I haven't been.

"And I wanted to have Delaney in a hot spot because they had had the invasion by Syria and Egypt about a couple of years before this book is set.

"So it was a very tense time in the Middle East, and it was a fairly interesting place to visit in the middle of this uprising of disaffected Palestinians, the Christians trying to make a go of it, and the Israelis trying to run the country.

"I always like to read books about Jerusalem, thrillers mainly, and it's such an interesting and fraught part of the world.

"So I've sat at my desk trying to recreate what it was like in the 1970s in Israel."

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McGill's latest book has had high praise from a trio of respected writers.

Fiona Kidman said it was "a vivid inside view of Israel as well as rattling along with a fast-paced crime story".

Roger Hall summed it up as a "cracking yarn".

And Graeme Lay said, "The tautly structured plot of this thriller grips the reader from the first to the final page.

"Set in the so-called Holy Land, the novel's characters and themes are as meaningful today as they were during the 1970s setting.

"Jerusalem — spiritual home to Jews, Muslims and Christians — is vividly evoked and forms a vibrant backdrop to the conflicts and tribulations of the Delaney family."

McGill said, "I am flattered to have comments from our current queen of Kiwi crime writing, Ngaio Marsh Award winner Fiona Kidman, the country's undisputed No 1 playwright Roger Hall and international best-selling author of the James Cook novels, Graeme Lay.

www.davidmcgill.co.nz