New Zealand-born Peter Walker has been living in Britain for nearly 30 years now. He's made a considerable reputation as an author there, under as many as six (six!) nom-de-plumes, writing well over 100 (100!) books: historical fiction; country diaries; and many more. He was foreign editor for the Independent on Sunday and he's written for Granta and the Financial Times.

This novel is his American publishing debut. It begins in late 1960s' New Zealand, as our government debates whether to send more troops to Vietnam. The country is split; people argue and march. University students are prominent, especially the Wellington group which is the book's scaffolding.

Most charismatic is Morgan Tawhai: expelled from high school, lover of literature and music, reciter of poetry, "naughty" and brilliant, dead but almost immortal, the sort of boy who jumps from treetops, and then the sort of young man who dares to rewrite Bob Dylan.

He and his friends are immersed in their vivid present, scarcely able to imagine another time. Walker neatly traces the loyalties and schisms among them as they wander through fog-wrapped central Wellington, or set off on an east coast pilgrimage.

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Then it's four decades later. Violence still divides nations, most recently in the form of 9/11. Another generation faces issues both global and personal, while also confronting and part-comprehending their parents' lives.

So the narrative steps forward, then backwards through years: "1967/2001/1969/2004/2010." The young ones of half a century ago change careers, perspectives, commitments, begin to pay "the heavy costs of time".

Events cross the globe as well, from New Zealand to the United States, with "the American sky ... all lit up as if expecting visitors from space" (and they arrive), to the ruins of Baalbek and Beirut's Corniche with a beggar every 50 paces.

A large cast assembles: son and Australian girlfriend; once-famous ophthalmologist; ex-Polish POW; Flaubert in Egypt; overzealous translator; the wonderfully-named Human Sanity.

There are weddings and casual break-ins, a caravan of mini-buses, a leap - possibly - from a cliff, a recurring story which moves people apart, a revelatory visit to a grave, and an abundance of talking.

Walker evokes the politics of causes and friendships adroitly. He's deft with dialogue, proficient with plot, competent-plus with characterisation. He likes his people but doesn't go easy on them. The guy is unquestionably a pro, even if he's inclined to point his reader towards the meaningful comment and intriguing period detail.

And, at the novel's end, a number of his characters return to a place and really know it for the first time. That's always satisfying in fiction.

Some Here Among Us
by Peter Walker
(Bloomsbury $36.99)

David Hill is a Taranaki writer.

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