The story opens in 1955 in a prison cell in Auckland New Zealand where we meet Paddy Black. He is awaiting trial for murder. Albert, or Paddy as he was known is on trial for the murder of Johnny McBride, or Alan Jacques to give him is real name.
It’s less than two years since Paddy left his home in Belfast, sailed across the globe in search of a better life. Now after an altercation in a bar he stands in a prison cell awaiting trial for murder. The question that Fiona Kidman asks throughout the book is should his actions lead him to the gallows?
The story moves back and forth through Paddy’s world. Kidman achieves that seamlessly as she takes us with Paddy and his life in Auckland back to the family he left behind in Belfast and to the present day with Paddy in his prison cell. She builds up the story and tension perfectly by beautifully drawing out the characters in the story and laying out the facts for you to decide whether he deserves to die. She also develops the character of Paddy without glamourizing or making him out to be a good boy. He was a troubled soul but does that mean because he made one mistake he deserves to die. And that’s the question throughout the whole book.
This is a tale of decisions made and living with the consequences of them. Kidman argues the case against the death penalty very well and her take on the trial that there is an element of voyeurism to it because it might lead to a hanging is chilling. The challenge for the jury is that if they find him guilty of murder he will hang and have we, as a society earned the right to decide who should live and who should die.
This is a novel based on the true story of Albert Black who was the second last man to be executed in New Zealand.