Bibliophile | Queer author R.W.R. McDonald brings high camp mystery ‘Nancy Business’

Nancy Business
by R.W.R. McDonald
Allen & Unwin

Rob McDonald is a queer Kiwi dad, living in Melbourne with his two daughters and one HarryCat. He introduced the character of twelve year old Tippy Chan and her gay uncles to the world in his first novel The Nancys, which won him a many awards.

Born in New Zealand with Chinese and Pakeha heritage, Tippy lives in Riverstone which is near Dunedin. It is just her mother and her since her father’s death but uncles Devon and Pike are regular visitors. They have just bought a house in Riverstone that they are renovating as a holiday home while they are staying in a smelly rental nearby.

When there is a deadly explosion at the local town hall, Tippy and her uncles re-form their amateur detective group The Nancys to investigate why the man known as Mr Tulips, who was known to be nice, would do something so evil, killing both himself and another person.

For most of the novel, there seem to be more questions raised than solutions found. The investigation is continually sidelined by are several personal dramas including a rift between the uncles that Tippy is trying desperately to heal. Almost every character seems to be having an affair – except Tippy of course and her mother who is continually working as a nurse at the local hospital.

Counting down to another possible bomb going off, the bickering and the lack of progress is frustrating and a more important mystery comes to light regarding Tippy’s father as they commemorate the one year anniversary of his death.

McDonald brings queer voices to commercial fiction with outrageous flamboyance and totally inappropriate behaviour for a 12 year old to be witnessing. On the surface, the book is an extremely camp Keystone Cops romp but there are some interesting issues that need to be looked at in the small New Zealand town.

Lezly Herbert

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