Necessary Secrets by Greg McGee
Den the widowed Herne Bay patriarch is ostensibly celebrating his 70th birthday; his three children plus some mysterious hangers-on have joined him to drink champagne (which he hates) and doubtless end up fighting with each other, but it won’t matter, he thinks, for this will be his last night on earth: he intends to die by his own hand – assisted by Walter, his name for an ancient Walther PPK with one bullet in it, for he has received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s from his physician and wants to leave the world while he can still remember names and faces. Fortunately, he has sold his boutique advertising and production company to his eldest son Will, who seems to be running the business successfully; his daughter Ellie has some sort of glorified social worker position helping waifs and strays – why, one of them, Jackson, a strange quiet Maori boy is living with them at the moment, and he has a sister who has suddenly turned up: why are they here, exactly? Oh yes, that’s right – their father is now out of jail for half-killing their mother, and he’s looking for Jackson to kill him because it was Jackson’s testimony that put him inside.
So Ellie’s OK. Youngest son Stanley seems to be the only unfocused one, living on a remote Golden Bay ‘Co-Operative’ having decided to renounce all his current worldly goods (which weren’t many.) Oh, he’ll be alright. So. Tonight will be the Night!
Except that it’s not: Den’s house burns down and the insurance company is procrastinating about the pay-out, saying that the fire could have been deliberately lit, which is bad news all round, especially for Den who is farmed out to Assisted Living. Will, inheritor of the family business is deeply in debt and in urgent need of the insurance pay-out to prop up his company, plus his marriage is going south – and he has a raging meth habit. Could things get any worse?
Of course they could, and they do, in ways that kick the plot along at a great pace, providing a solution to those necessary family secrets that is both credible and satisfying, for Greg McGee is completely at home with his characters and city, and portrays the whole with an honesty and expertise that is masterly. FIVE STARS