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Bohan, Edmund
Writer's File

Edmund Bohan

Canterbury - Waitaha
Bohan, Edmund
In brief
Edmund Bohan is a historian and fiction writer. He has written extensively on 19th century New Zealand political history, and he has a background as a professional touring singer. He has written novels for junior readers, in addition to a number of notable biographies and historical detective novels. Bohan's biographies have been shortlisted for the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, and he was the John David Stout Research fellow in 1995. Bohan was also runner up for the 2001 Richard Webster Popular Fiction Award.
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    Canterbury University Press
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Bohan, Edmund (1935 - ) is an historian and fiction writer who is a leading authority on 19th century New Zealand political history. He is also a former professional singer who, during a long career of over forty years, sang all over the world and released a number of commercial recordings.

Bohan's first published books, written while he was living in Britain, were historical novels for junior readers, The Writ of Green Wax (1990), and The Buckler (1972). During his time in the UK he was also commissioned to write a centennial history of the Incorporated Society of Musicians The First Hundred Years (1982).

On his return to New Zealand in 1987 Bohan decided to devote more time to writing and historical research. The first book published after his return was the acclaimed biography Edward Stafford: New Zealand's First Statesman (1994). The Daily Telegraph writes: 'The book is essential reading for all interested in New Zealand history, philosophy or politics.' The Nelson Evening Mail describes it as 'a tour de force, one of the finest political biographies of the last decade.'

Blest Madman: Fitzgerald of Canterbury (1998) was equally well-received. 'Early provincial politics have not been popular for some time,' writes The Evening Post, 'but Bohan's book breathes life back into the genre... a rattling good yarn.'

To Be a Hero: a biography of Sir George Grey (1998) confirmed Bohan's place as a pre-eminent political historian of the 19th century. In a letter to the editors of New Zealand Books, Michael Cooke writes, 'Edmund Bohan's biography of Grey is written in a robust fashion, revealing more about the personality of this enigmatic Governor than any previous biography. Moreover, Bohan is a master of the deft phrase.' NZ: The story so far (HarperCollins 1997) is a short illustrated history, especially popular with schools. Gavin McLean wrote of the book in the Evening Post, 'a very intelligent achievement'.

Bohan's biographies of Stafford and Grey were both shortlisted for the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, in 1995 and 1999 respectively. In 1995 he was the John David Stout Research Fellow at Victoria University's Stout Research Centre.

In addition to his histories and biographies, and his contributions to every volume of The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Bohan has written a series of historical detective novels featuring Inspector Patrick O'Rorke: The Opawa Affair (1996), The Dancing Man (1997), The Matter of Parihaka (2000), The Irish Yankee (2001), and A Present for the Czar (2003).

The appeal of these mysteries is described in a review of The Opawa Affair in New Zealand Books: '...much more than just a detective story. It is a well-researched and convincing study of attitudes and characters.' Perhaps with a nod to Bohan's singing career, Metro describes the novel as 'Grand and torrid on a truly operatic scale.'

In The Evening Post Renée writes of The Matter of Parihaka: 'At last, an accomplished New Zealand writer makes a good job of a crime novel... I enjoyed the story, the beautifully woven plot, the threads of which are handled skilfully and with ease, and I appreciated the well-researched historical background. Roll on the next Patrick O'Rourke...' and Kenneth Turner of the Otago Daily Times related it as 'historical fiction at its very best.'

The Irish Yankee was runner up for the 2001 Richard Webster Popular Fiction Award, and was described by Iain Duffy in The Northern Advocate as 'a very well written novel...the best New Zealand fiction I have read for some time.'

The last O'Rorke novel, A Present for the Czar, set in Christchurch during the great Russian invasion scare of 1885 was praised by Gillian Vine in The Star, Dunedin, as an excellent tale, Bohan's best to date.'

Burdon: A Man of Our Time (Hazard Press, 2004). An unbiased, in-depth account of one of New Zealand's most fascinating political eras and one of its key shapers, is a review of the career and achievements of Philip Burdon, a committed - but never jingoistic - republican Nationalist New Zealander. As Minister of Trade Negotiations, he steered New Zealand through the labyrinth of GATT reforms that made up the Uruguay Round.

The House of Reed 1907- 1983; Great Days in New Zealand Publishing (Canterbury University Press, 2005) was described by Mary Varnham in New Zealand Books as 'a great New Zealand story stylishly told'.

Climates of War; New Zealand in Conflict 1859-1869 (Hazard Press, 2005) is an examination of the politics and personalities of New Zealand's momentous, yet misunderstood decade of tribal, provincial, national and international conflict whose legacies still underlie our political and racial debates. Gordon McLauchlin described it as 'essential reading for anyone wanting to fully understand the genesis of the battles of the New Zealand civil war.'

Bohan's memoir Singing Historian (Canterbury University Press, 2012) was described by Christopher Moore in The Press as 'a warm, funny and avuncular look back at a life'. Ruth Todd (Bookenz, Plains FM) praised the book for its wit and observant eye, and said that, as a social history, it was 'a joy to read'.

In addition, Edmund Bohan has contributed chapters to several books including; The Theatre Royal Christchurch; An Illustrated History (2008), Remembering Godley (2001), The Irish in New Zealand; Historical Contexts and Perspectives (2002), Ulster - New Zealand Migration and Cultural Transfers (2006). Bohan has also contributed to TVNZ's historical documentary 'Frontier of Dreams' and Prime TV's 'New Zealand's Top 100 History Makers.'

In 2017 Bohan published two new Inspector O'Rorke historical mystery novels: The Lost Taonga in July, and A Suitable Time for Vengeance in November.

In 2018, Bohan was made a Member of the Order of Merit for services to music, historical research and literature.


Wikipedia page

Interview on RNZ's Upbeat