Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 23, 2013

My Father’s Den (1972), by Maurice Gee, narrated by Humphrey Bower

In My Father's DenI don’t usually borrow library books tagged with the ‘mystery’ icon on the spine but I picked this one up for the daily commute because it was by distinguished New Zealand author Maurice Gee, and the blurb persuaded me that it was going to be more than the usual for this genre.  It turned out to be most interesting.

Seventeen-year-old Celia Inverarity is found brutally murdered in Cascade Park Auckland, and it’s hardly surprising that the teacher who’s been tutoring her privately at his place becomes a suspect.  The novel is carefully constructed so that while the evidence is only circumstantial, his own retelling of events looks very suspicious indeed.

The novel was written in 1972 in a more innocent era. but these days Paul Prior would be hauled up before Conduct and Ethics before he could get to the end of the Walt Whitman poems he shares with Celia.  Her father has expressly forbidden the friendship, but the girl spends many afternoons at Paul’s place, enjoying the books and music denied to her in her more plebeian home.  As Paul recounts events, he delves back into his past, sharing his attraction to this girl as a replacement for a long-lost love, and his own childhood in a dysfunctional family.

Superbly narrated by Humphrey Bower (he gets the NZ accent just right!) the novel maintains the tension right up to the very end.

In a career spanning more than 50 years, Maurice Gee has over 30 novels to his credit but not many of them have been recorded.  However Bolinda Audio have also released Access Road (2009) so I might see if I can get my hands on that one too…

Author: Maurice Gee
Title: My Father’s Den
Publisher: Bolinda Audio, 2007
ISBN: 9781740939553
Source: Kingston Library

Fishpond: You might be lucky and pick up a second-hand copy, In My Father’s Den: 6 Spoken Word CDs, 380 Minutes
Otherwise try the library or Brotherhood Books – where they had two paperback copies on the day I looked.


  1. Coincidence: I just watched the film version and have been thinking about getting the book


    • Yes, I saw that there was a film version, I’m going to see if I can find it on QuickFlix.


  2. I enjoyed it. Bit of a rough spot to explain Paul’s British accent. Does that occur in the book?


    • *doubtfully* I don’t remember. It was an audio book and it’s gone back to the library now so I can’t check. I don’t know about NZ but here there’s what’s called ‘educated Australian’ which sounds like a U British accent, and people pick it up/reinforce it at university. So the first in a family to go to uni back in the 70s when the book was written might end up speaking differently and be perceived as a snob … was that the context? Because one of the motifs is Paul’s brother’s resentment of his education, fed by the fact that it’s his work in the family business that enables Paul’s dilettante lifestyle. He’s so jealous of Paul’s books, having them and being able to read and understand them.


  3. The impression in the film is that Paul’s accent is the result of him leaving while still young and running off to England. That’s his explanation, anyway. The brother is also plagued by resentment in the film. My impression in the film is that they were just trying to explain James McAvoy’s accent as the explanation happens more than once with several characters, and the explanation felt a bit false to be honest.


    • We have a Kiwi on staff: I will ask her if there is an ‘issue’ about accents in NZ and see what she says….


      • Matthew Macfadyen is Paul in this film and he is an excellent actor, very moving, even with British accent…


        • Hi Luce, thanks for dropping by … I must see if I can get hold of this film during the holidays when I might have time to watch it…


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