Mark Chamberlain's been at it again, this time producing a novel that has some very recognisable ingredients for Far North readers.
Dangerous, his fourth novel, is based on a true story, and that's not at all hard to believe. It is dedicated to Preston Dixon and Shem Leefe, both gone now, but two people who had a significant and lasting impact on him during his first stint in Kaitaia, as a Probation Service colleague and a source of down to earth wisdom respectively.
Preston had a strong streak of wisdom too, which he generally concealed behind an unfailingly amicable if sometimes jaded exterior, the latter shining through as he inducts a newcomer to the reality of keeping an eye on ne'er do wells who are being given a chance to redeem themselves.
The geography will be familiar to many too, although pinning down precisely where the bulk of the story takes place isn't easy. It can't be too far from Taipā, but maybe it is. Whatever, this is in many ways a real Far North story whose appeal, unlike many that have gone before, doesn't rely on familiarity with the major components.
It would be just as engrossing if it was set in Oban.
It begins by laying down some background, as Zac takes part, somewhat reluctantly, in an armed robbery in Auckland that was never going to end well, but soon fast-forwards to his release from prison into the custody of his ailing grandparents, who are struggling to keep up with the demands of their Far North farm. Zac wastes no time in proving his worth from a practical point of view, but has demons to control, with varying degrees of success, and a deep-seated sense of worthlessness that never really leaves him.
It's a painful process, but for all his failings, stubbornness and unwillingness to accept help from those who love and support him, he is drawn as a sympathetic if somewhat exasperating character, a man paying the price for an inauspicious start in life that did him few favours.
That certainly has a ring of truth about it.
Mark Chamberlain has undoubtedly met a few Zacs on his peripatetic journey through life, a real life background that stretches from teaching in Middle East to finding out the hard way that he wasn't cut out to be a monk, leavened with a bit of dope-smoking trans-Atlantic sailing. It also includes a stint working with the late, much lamented Preston Dixon in Kaitaia.
As he clearly did in so many environments throughout his life (so far), he absorbed much of what those he encountered had to teach him, learning that he now puts to good use when he sits down to write.
The importance of grandparents, meanwhile, is becoming something of a theme. We know he didn't have a great relationship with his alcoholic Irish father, but perhaps there is something in his past that leads him back to the massively influential role that grandparents can play in a child's, and a man's life.
Dangerous once again reveals that whatever he's been doing throughout his life, Mark Chamberlain has squirrelled away much of what he has done and witnessed, and is now putting that mosaic of experiences, events and people to good use.
His yarns, if one might be so bold, are getting better, more fluent, more believable. This one continues that trend, and would make a fine addition to any book shelf.
Dangerous is available at Rider's Sports Depot, McCarthny Mitre 10, Bakerman, the Northland Age, and www.mochamberlain.com, RRP $25.