Balancing pathos, Janet Wilson

This Mortal Boy: A Novel
Fiona Kidman
Penguin Random House, $38.00,
ISBN 9780143771807

In This Mortal Boy (with its subtle, sad echo of Brendan Behan’s novel, Borstal Boy), Fiona Kidman gives a semi-fictional reconstruction of the highly publicised case of the “jukebox” murder that took place in Auckland in May 1955. Committed by a young Northern Irish immigrant, Albert (Paddy) Black, against Alan Jacques, another immigrant who had earlier beaten up Black, the murder went to trial, and Black received a verdict of guilty which, at that time, meant the death penalty. An appeal and the petition raised by his mother in Belfast of 12,000 signatures, failed, and Black was hanged on 5th December 1955. The death penalty had been reinstated in New Zealand by the National government in 1950, following a particularly brutal murder. Black’s was the penultimate case of execution before the Labour government commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment in 1957, and it was finally abolished in 1961 with 10 National members of parliament crossing the floor.

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