Ralph McAllister writes: ‘Another eclectic mix of books, read in the last couple of weeks, but what a rewarding exploration of past and present.

BILL AND SHIRLEY a memoir, is by son-in-law Keith Ovenden, beginning with the early days of Keith’s marriage to Helen, the only child of of two of the most brilliant intellectuals of last century.

Iconoclastic and obsessive, Bill Sutch, through his visionary views on the economy, was always controversial — and labelled by some narrow-minded opponents as The Weasel.

A terrifying trial

His trial under the Official Secrets Act for his dubious relationship with some Russian diplomats was  by turns, ridiculous and terrifying — and Ovenden is in no doubt that the stress and anguish hastened Sutch’s early death.

Shirley features in the second memoir, and delineates her brilliant career at Oxford ,her marriage to Bill, her disdain towards Ovenden who was obviously not good enough for her daughter Helen.

Happily this attitude changed over the years as she began a passionate and quite remarkable legal practice.

She took on the prejudices of the male establishment and, if not punching above her height (she stood about five feet) certainly left her colleagues reeling, with her demonstrations of pugnacious determination to support justice, wherever it was not being delivered.

What stands out in this short ,erudite and superbly-researched memoir is the humanity of the author.

Ovenden is modest and insightful, gentle and dignified, in a book which he warns again and again that it is not a biography.

If only, if only.

As it is ,it is a fine social document and will ,and should be read by many.


The dark Kingdom

THE KINGDOM by Jo Nesbo is darker than most of his other Scandinavian noir thrillers, and that is saying a lot.

It should come with a warning for those of a weak disposition ,as themes of unspeakable deeds begin to emerge in this slow moving 500 page piece torture.

But do we read on?

Of course we do, along with millions just like you will.



Finally, CROSSING THE LINES by Brent Coutts ,published by Otago University is like no other World War 11 account you will ever read.

Here you have three homosexual men, Harold Robinson, Ralph Dyer and Douglas Morrison who, not only went to war, refusing to hide their queer identities ,but revelled in their contributions to the morale of troops ,as they entertained as female impersonators.

Splendidly illustrated, meticulously researched,it shows these men playing to thousands of troops in the Pacifica and nearer home with the Kiwi Concert Party.

Each of the men discovered love and significant relationships,each found an acceptance of their way of life in the army of the time,while never gaining that in their own towns in New Zealand.

The irony is inescapable.

Pride and prejudice prevailed.

This is an astonishing book,deeply moving and funny,by turns.

To think that tolerance was being practised by straight men all these years ago ,but not just tolerance, genuine sexual and emotional attachments which, in some cases lasted a lifetime.

The author deserves a medal.

He might get one!


Bill and Shirley by Keith Ovenden sounds great.
Shirley was one of my favourite people. Outspoken and hugely influential in saving the buildings and character of Thorndon.
I remember Shirley Smith holding a pavement debate with city councilors, ( amid roaring traffic on Tinakori Rd), on why roads in Thorndon should not be widened, why cars should not be given precedence over people and why its residents love Thorndon just as it is.

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