The Far Side of the Sun by Kate Furnivall
Though they make only cameo appearances, the fleeting background presence of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor goes a long way towards illustrating the historical context of Kate Furnivall’s Bahamian potboiler, The Far Side of the Sun. Set in 1943, they have been exiled from the mother country to serve a governorship in the Bahamas, part of a stratagem by Winston Churchill and King George VI to keep the Windsors a safe distance from their Nazi chums.
The ploy worked, but wartime Nassau is nearly as rife with miscreants and evildoers as the Third Reich. Furnivall took as her inspiration a true-crime book, Who Killed Sir Harry Oakes?, about the Nassau murder of one of the world’s richest men.
We first meet the duplicitous Sir Harry when he attempts to persuade the novel’s heroine, brave but down-at-heel Dodie Wyatt, to take a job at his hotel. Dodie recognizes his true agenda when he goes on to quiz her about a man named Johnnie Morrell, whom Dodie had earlier found badly injured in the street on her way home from work. He died in her beachside shack a matter of hours later, not before telling her that he worked in insurance, “of a kind”, protecting the information held in people’s heads.
Dodie is far more concerned by his demise than what he knew or who he worked for, but she quickly learns that her connection to him was neither brief nor tenuous enough to be overlooked on an island that is suddenly much too small.
The nature of Sir Harry’s acquaintance with Morrell is not yet clear to her, but when she meets and falls for a young man, Flynn Hudson, who knew Morrell and mentions the name Meyer Lansky, she finds herself deep in a morass that she hadn’t known existed. (Regrettably for this Mafiaphile, Furnivall finds no feasible way to introduce the mob accountant to the story other than as a dropped name and shadowy threat; in real life, Florida, his final resting place, was as far south as he ventured.)
Dodie, the novel’s most well-rounded and appealing character, serves as counterpoint to the dissatisfied diplomat’s wife, Ella Sanford. At 41, she has fetched up with dull, polite Reggie in the Caribbean, where 11 years have passed since his previous postings in Alexandria and Malaya.
The bored housewife with no children – they just never happened, though not for lack of earnest, courteous nightly ministrations on Reggie’s part – is a prime candidate for a bit of bodice-ripping, and after Ella is caught up in an moment of civil unrest, a chaperone and bodyguard, a local policeman named Dan Calder, enters the fray to do just that.
At this point, The Far Side of the Sun (a bit of a nonsense title, but evocative of the kind of faded tropical glamour Furnivall re-enacts) could just as well be renamed Women in Love, had D H Lawrence not famously laid claim to it first.
The balance between sex, deceit – public and private – and high crime is mostly struck well, and the novel is more disciplined and streamlined than Furnivall’s last work, the bloated and overpopulated The White Pearl. In reading that, I found myself wishing that she would devote more of her considerable storytelling ability to the development of character than the regurgitation of historiography, and she has, with confident smoothness, in a tale that reminds us once again that the personal is always political.
Previously reviewed on Coast FM
Reviewer: Stephanie Jones