Book review: CK Stead's wonderful slow-burner

A "middle-aged adventure" for a man in New Zealand involves a move to London and the discovery that he has an illegitimate daughter.

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CK Stead
MacLehose Press

Set against the gathering storms of the last decade, CK Stead's Risk is a wonderful, slow-burning novel. The book begins in the post-9/11 fug of Tony Blair's search for Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and ventures on through the 7/7 bombings to the financial crisis that so devastated the economic landscape in 2008.

Its title nods to the behaviour of Sam Nola, the risk-averse central character. His children grown-up, newly divorced Nola decamps from New Zealand to London to begin what his ex-wife describes as a "middle-aged adventure" working for a financial institution.

Nola's fortunes rise with those of the booming London banking sector and his life becomes considerably more interesting with the news that he has "acquired" Letty, a French daughter from a brief premarital affair during his previous European sojourn decades earlier.

His joy will be punctured by the unexpected deaths of two friends. Thereafter, Nola drifts through the book in a loose voyage of discovery in which Stead, who celebrated his 80th birthday last month, demonstrates that his storytelling powers remain undimmed.

* Nick March