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The Physician’s Gun by John Evan Harris

The Physician’s Gun by John Evan Harris introduces the modern reader to the life of young Henry Appleton, a Kiwi bloke who longs for the adventure and experiences that he finds in the dime classics he reads from the great country of America. A land filled with guns, robbers, bandits - you know, adventure-y stuff…

Harris is a producer and the founder of Greenstone TV which gives him access to a lot of information about the history of the country. It’s particularly pertinent when we have a national curriculum that celebrates the events and people in our history that have made the country what it is today.

A simple browse through the latest titles in the YA genre in New Zealand is evidence that a shift has come in the collective memories of our country (and a good one at that).

In writing about our past, Harris has uncovered something that fits those young readers who thrive on the adventurous spirit within the protagonist, Henry Appleton, as he seeks to find some catharsis from the sadness brought on through the death of his father. The arrival of a new physician, Zephaniah Smith, replete with his impressive gun and determined attitude, brings a change in the community. Physician Smith is on his own journey to hunt down the infamous Burgess gang led by Richard Burgess - one of the truly heinous figures of New Zealand’s history. A bloodthirsty, menacing and fearless man of the past.

While it has the potential to be a rip roarer of a ride through the annals of New Zealand’s history, told through the escapades of some of the most ruthless individuals to ever grace our shores, there is a sense that it falls short in a few places to deliver to the target age group. The dialogue feels a little disjointed with a hybrid mix of line-walking by Harris who is clearly trying to maximise the language of the time, but also being cautious to ensure its palatability for an audience quite removed from this style of speaking.

In a battle with other stories including mythical elements, fast paced science fiction and, of course, fantasy, there is a real fear that stories like these may be overlooked. Wrongly.

Writing-wise, Harris is someone who knows how to put pen to paper. The prose is fluent and hangs together well between chapters, it’s just the slightly off language that I wonder about with modern readers.

It is easy to see that this has the makings of a television adaptation in time, however surely it would need to be a fairly high scale production with the necessary feel of olden days New Zealand being a primary aspect of the text.

This is an enjoyable and quick read, it has a lot going for it to make it worthwhile for readers of any age - and the amount of planning and work that must have gone in to the narrative to give it the authentic feel must have been immense.

Reviewer: Chris Reed

Roiall Emerald


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