Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Review of The Sun is God by Adrian McKinty (2014, Serpent’s Tail)

After a traumatic incident at the end of the Boar War, military policeman Will Prior orchestrates his dismissal from the British army. Not wanting to return home to Yorkshire he instead heads to German New Guinea in the South Pacific. There he tries to forget his past, eking out a living by managing a small plantation and conducting an affair with his native housekeeper, Siwa. When the autopsy of a German national, who’d been living on a remote island populated by a strange cult, suggests foul play, the authorities turn to Will for professional help. Reluctantly Will agrees to accompany a representative of the Governor and an English traveller, Bessie Pullen-Burry, who is writing a travelogue, to the island to investigate the death. There they are greeted by the small group of Cocovores who believe they have discovered the secret of eternal life - naturism, the worship of the sun, and a strict diet of coconuts, bananas and heroin. Over several drug-addled and malaria-ridden days, Will tries to discover whether any of the dozen inhabitants had murdered one of their number and as he nears his conclusion he starts to fear that he might not leave the island alive.

The Sun is God is based on the true story of the suspicious death of a member of a strange cult on a small island, Kabakon, in German New Guinea in 1906. Rejecting modern life, the Cocovores believed that they could achieve immortality through sun worship and a strict diet of coconuts and bananas (fruit that grows at the top of trees, nearest to the sun). Whilst most of the case are based on real characters, McKinty sends a fictional, ex-military policeman, Will Prior, to the island to investigate the case. Prior is a veteran of the Boer War, still suffering from post-traumatic stress from the conflict, and a reluctant policeman who’s prone to leap to conclusions and stumble his way through an investigation. The tight knit nature of the small community, their addiction to industrial heroin, and the surfacing of Prior’s malaria fever doesn’t help matters. The strength of the story is the oddity of the case itself, the mix of nicely penned characters, and the dynamic of the religious cult. However, background information on the history of the cult and the suspicious death is a little thin. Curiously for a McKinty book, the telling was slightly detached, almost as if he was mimicking an Edwardian voice, and it’s not until the last few pages when the narrative shifts focus and tense that his usual style kicks in, providing a climax to what had been a rather terse and reserved narrative. Overall an interesting and thoughtful historical crime tale.

1 comment:

Margot Kinberg said...

Fine review, Rob - Thanks. An interesting different sort of thing to his Sean Duffy novels...