by Les Allen
Les Allen’s book rollicks through the New Zealand of the 1970s and 1980s in 231 pages and some 97,000 words. In the main it is a nostalgic evocation of what many of us remember as ‘the good old days’ when a fax machine was a novelty; when hair was long; when trousers were flared; when only cissies drank stubbies or wine; when ladies brought plates to functions; when evenings before the TV ended (much earlier than at present) with ‘Goodnight Kiwi’, and when overseas experts knew much more than we did about anything that wasn’t involved with agriculture or rugby.
The story revolves around a Northland lawyer, Jim Mansell, who appears able to solve the problems of anyone who consults him, through a mixture of tactical ‘nous’, good fortune, loyal staff and an absolutely unsustainable workload.
He needs to do so because the villains of the piece, who range from Mansell’s crooked law partner to a ruthless captain of industry by way of a plethora of hard-hearted bureaucrats, feckless farmers, rugby-obsessed teenagers, dodgy financiers and ethically-challenged real estate operatives have all adopted, as a motto and modus operandi, the slogan of the title — “If That’s What it Takes”.
Throughout, the villains are deep-dyed and black, and Mansell and his faithful legal executive, Natalie, and his ever-resourceful secretary Kelly, battle on through setback, betrayal and disaster. They are aided by the peripatetic Rory, reputedly a private investigator, who seems never to have had any training in those dark arts, and Tony, the law firm’s accountant who is an ever-present figure of doom.
The story develops against a background of New Zealand icons: an idyllic landscape with Land Rovers, Holden Commodores, Morris Marinas to the fore, and self-taught engineers, a ‘Dally’ who has prospered through hard work and shrewdness, several ex-rugby players, and the odd boat-owning fatcat.
The work isn’t without its drawbacks. Time intervals tend towards the unrealistic and/or contrived and some episodes and characters appear to offer little to the story as a whole, but generally the book presents a pre-Internet New Zealand that seems much more than forty years ago. Or am I showing my age?
Author: Les Allen
Publisher: Illustra Press