Foreigners in their own country? The Maori detective in New Zealand crime fiction

Carolina Miranda, Barbara Pezzotti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Crime fiction is particularly relevant to the interrogation of contemporary societies, as a genre that once tended towards a quest for singular identity in order to reinforce the status quo has been gradually enlarged into a broader social enquiry. Pakeha writers using Maori as central characters is a particularly revealing choice, along with all the potential pitfalls, for the vital exercise of negotiating identities in a postcolonial context. This article analyses and juxtaposes the deployment of two Maori detectives in New Zealand crime fiction: Hoani Mata (in Valerie Grayland’s series published in the 1960s) and Tito Ihaka (the main protagonist of Paul Thomas’s series published in the 1990s). The examination of their modus operandi, the types of crimes they investigate, the way in which they interact with people and how colleagues view them provides a frame of reference into New Zealand and its shifting intercultural relations over almost half a century. Ultimately, our analysis of these two series set in different periods of New Zealand history, belonging to two different crime fiction subgenres (the Golden Age ‘whodunnit’ story and the ‘hardboiled’ novel), inscribes the arc of an ever-evolving society as it interrogates itself on the changing meaning and values of being a ‘New Zealander’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)313-325
Number of pages13
JournalThe Australasian Journal of Popular Culture
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • crime fiction
  • Maori in literature
  • identity in popular culture/literature
  • multiculturalism
  • Maori detective
  • postcolonial literature
  • crime setting

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