Having just read the latest in this author’s Detective Sean Duffy novels, and loved it, I was greatly looking forward to his most recent book, and was not in the least disappointed. Although the setting is as different from 1980’s Ireland as possible, this book is equally terrific, with funny and original writing that makes for a terrific read.
Since I couldn’t summarize the plot any more efficiently, I quote from the back of the book: “Colonial New Guinea, 1906. A small group of mostly German nudists, known as the Cocovores, live in extreme back-to-nature existence on the remove island of Kabakon. Eating only coconuts and bananas, they purport to worship the sun. One of their members has recently died, allegedly from malaria. But an autopsy in the nearby capital of Herbertshohe raises suspicions of foul play.”
The governor of that capital city appoints retired British military police officer Will Prior to investigate the death, so he travels to “tranquil Kabakon, one of the safe, forgotten islands that lay between New Britain and New Ireland in the deep and ancient waters off the Bismarck Sea.” A very real island, as it happens (the author includes notes on its history in the early days of the 20th century as well as the WWII era), as is the village of Herbertshohe, where even the servants have servants, and where “the day belonged to man, but the night belonged to the things that creeped and crawled and flew from tree to tree in the dense, ancient, primordial jungle.” And the mysterious death that is at the center of the book was real as well.
When Prior arrives, he finds the present-day inhabitants of the island (including, unexpectedly, three women) are all quite odd, and possibly mad. Prior notes that one of them, a medical doctor, is thought to be about 55 years old, “which is possibly ancient in the fever latitudes.” The investigation proceeds along inventive lines, and the result is thoroughly satisfying. The book is, as was the author’s prior novel, highly recommended.