Thursday's book: The Warrior Queen by Barbara Else (Pan, pounds 5.99)

Watching her husband's plump, unpyjamaed bottom "march" into a Sydney hotel bathroom, Kate Wildburn knows something is up. This sudden display of territorial assertiveness isn't (as she originally assumes) directed at her - "I'm paying for this room, I'll do just what I like for once" - but is rather the relaxed confidence of a man who knows he's loved by two women.

Until now, Kate's life has been that of any other doctor's wife living in a comfortable New Zealand suburb. A devoted mother to three teenage children, she works as a fundraiser for the local "schizos", lunches on shrimp and avocado with the other wives, and accompanies husband Richard on his "Eeternational conferences" to "Mexeeco Ceety" and the like. She is a genuinely happy woman who takes daily pleasure in her new see-thru Bodum teapot and Sergio Armani shoes.

So when she discovers a $118 invoice from the Glade Motor Inn in her husband's blazer pocket, it takes a few bottles of Coonawarra Red and a visit to a therapist before the penny finally drops. But when it does - and Kate finds out who Richard has been "playing squash" with every Thursday afternoon - there emerges from the emotional ashes a finer, stronger Kate - a woman who has been taken to the cleaners once too often.

Liberated from her Wendy Craig-like domesticity, and with the help of best friend Libb, Kate embarks on a campaign of carefully orchestrated persecution. First stop is the Local Friendly Chemist, where she purchases a basket full of "Ultra Sensitive" condoms and, once home, proceeds to stuff them into Richard's suit pockets. Several packets end up humiliating him in front of a group of nurses. Other ruses include a delivery of pig's manure to his love-nest in downtown Remuera and the services of an uninvited call girl. Most infuriatingly, Kate gets herself a job.

As stories of female revenge go, this first novel by playwright Barbara Else follows a fairly traditional route, leading out of the kitchen and into therapy; but unlike fellow Antipodean writers Kathy Lette and Tyne O'Connell, she does so with the minimal number of exclamation marks and ironic one-liners. At her sharpest when describing the Wellington social scene (with some nice moments over medallions of kangaroo and raspberry coulis) Else is also surprisingly sweet when it comes to Kate's relationship with her well-meaning but downwardly-mobile children. Not yet as practised in the arts of white witchery as our own Fay Weldon, but well on her way, Else has no shortage of good material to draw on from this strange country of hers - which lies somewhere between Croydon and California.

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