Review – This Mortal Boy by Fiona Kidman @BelgraviaB


Winner of The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards 2019

Winner of the New Zealand Booklovers Prize for Fiction 2019

Winner of the NZ Heritage Book Awards 2018


The offender is not one of ours. It is unfortunate that we got this undesirable from his homeland.

Auckland, October 1955. If young Paddy Black sings to himself he can almost see himself back home in Belfast. Yet, less than two years after sailing across the globe in search of a better life, here he stands in a prison cell awaiting trial for murder. He pulled a knife at the jukebox that night, but should his actions lead him to the gallows? As his desperate mother waits on, Paddy must face a judge and jury unlikely to favour an outsider, as a wave of moral panic sweeps the island nation.

Fiona Kidman’s powerful novel explores the controversial topic of the death penalty with characteristic empathy and a probing eye for injustice.


A haunting, sensitive fictionalised account of the events leading up to the hanging of the second to last person to be hanged in New Zealand.

Albert Black, known colloquially in New Zealand as ‘Paddy’ Black from Northern Island was one of the ‘ten pound poms’ who emigrated to New Zealand in the 1950’s.

When he died in 1955, found guilty of murder, he was only 20 years old.

Encouraged to emigrate to New Zealand by his parents who were worried about the escalating tensions between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, Albert Black, was eager and willing to work hard and embrace the challenges faced from moving to a different country. However, feeling homesick and discontent after discovering that English and Irish were looked down upon Albert, a decides to move to Auckland to work and save up for his passage back to N Ireland.

Albert was given temporary custodianship of a boarding house while his landlady was away looking after a sick friend. Albert became enthralled by the cafe culture of the time, with young people congregating in certain cafes where music was listened to on juke boxes. A contact of his, a troubled youth by the name of Alan Jacques, otherwise known as Johnny McBride tried to cause trouble with him over a girl they were both interested in and McBride ended up being stabbed in the neck with a fatal wound by Albert who was subsequently tried and found guilty of murder. The previous night McBride had given him a kick to his testicles and had promised to return the next night to finish the job.

Albert had armed himself with a knife as self protection against an attack he knew was coming.

The right wing government of that time in New Zealand were anxious about the growing lack of morality within the young teenagers of the country and were apparently against Albert Black and ‘ten pound poms’ in general believing that they were responsible for the perceived lack of morality. Albert was unfortunately a scapegoat of sorts and opinions were prejudiced against him before his trial had even begun.

Comments about his trial were made by the trial judge who was presiding in court over the case. The following was printed in an Auckland newspaper the day before the trial began.

The offender is not one of ours, except by adoption and apparently comes from the type that we could well be spared in our country. He belongs to a peculiar sect, if you could call it that, or a peculiar association of individuals whose outlook on life differs from the normal. It is unfortunate that we got this undesirable from his homeland. It is a case of an apparently deliberate stabbing in a restaurant in Upper Queen Street, and there seems to be no opening of either provocation or self-defence, or any of the defences usually presented in a case of this kind’

With his mother, back in N Ireland desperate and frantically trying to raise money to first travel to New Zealand to see her son and secondly to help pay for his defence costs.

She’d written to the High Commissioner in New Zealand and had a negative response. Mrs Black was discouraged from travelling to visit her son. Her anguish and helplessness is palpable and for me that was the hardest part to read. Imagining myself in her position with a son overseas facing a possible execution.

The Attorney-General in New Zealand said he’d had too many murderers’ mothers coming pleading for their sons’ lives. They don’t know that Albert is a murderer. I said to Mr Warnock, could Albert swing for this? And he said yes, yes, he could. They’re a very moral country, he says.’

Pearson, Black’s senior counsel, in his summing up speech said the following, hence the title of the book

You have before you this mortal boy, one who has made a mistake, unintended, but a mistake nonetheless, with terrible consequences. Death is forever,’

With the background story, snippets about Albert Black’s original home life time plus his time inside the notorious Mt Eden prison and small bios about each person involved in the story, including jury members, the book was a fascinating if tragic read.

Despite knowing the outcome of events I found the book fascinating and informative. Incidentally, after the trial and subsequent execution the outcry about the case eventually led to the ending of execution of prisoners in 1961

This is the first book I’ve read by the author Francis Kidman.

Poignant, disturbing and fascinating

Thanks to Gallic books for my gifted copy of the book. I also bought the kindle version

About the Author

Fiona Kidman has published over 30 books, including novels, poetry, non-fiction and a play. She has worked as a librarian, creative writing teacher, radio producer and critic, and as a scriptwriter for radio, television and film, but primarily as a writer. She has been the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships; in more recent years The Captive Wife was runner-up for the Deutz Medal for Fiction and was joint-winner of the Readers’ Choice Award in the 2006 Montana New Zealand Book Awards, and her short story collection The Trouble With Fire was shortlisted for both the NZ Post Book Awards and the Frank O’Connor Award. She was created a Dame (DNZM) in 1998 in recognition of her contribution to literature, and more recently a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honour. ‘We cannot talk about writing in New Zealand without acknowledging her,’ wrote New Zealand Books. ‘Kidman’s accessible prose and the way she shows (mainly) women grappling to escape from restricting social pressures has guaranteed her a permanent place in our fiction.’

To Purchase on Amazon UK

To Purchase at Waterstones

4 thoughts on “Review – This Mortal Boy by Fiona Kidman @BelgraviaB

Add yours

    1. Thanks Terry, think I rabbit on a bit much and reveal a bit too much about the story. The book opened my eyes to a lot to events in New Zealand history that I wasn’t aware of. Glad you liked the review!


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