Published: 5 December 2013
Genre: Historical Fiction
Bahamas, 1943. Twenty-two-year-old Dodie Wyatt has escaped her turbulent past and now lives in a shack on a beach near downtown Nassau, where she works in a hotel. But one night her peace is shattered when she tries to help a man she finds stabbed in an alleyway.
On the other side of town, wealthy diplomat's wife Ella Stanford is content keeping her husband out of Britain and away from his Nazi friends in Germany while she throws herself into charitable work for the town's poverty-stricken community and entertainment for the military troops.
But when one of the richest men in the world is found killed in his Nassau mansion, these two very different women - Dodie, a shy introvert, and Ella, a confident socialite - are drawn together. The gruesome death spirals the already unstable island into violence, deceit, greed and death, and Dodie and Ella have only each other to rely on as their ordered lives are blown apart...
The Far Side of the Sun is set in the Bahamas during the Second World War and follows Kate Furnivall’s usual formula of a woman facing peril in an exotic location. The problem with The Far Side of the Sun is that it explores a real life mystery which held little interest for me and I found the book somewhat tedious to read as a result.
As you would expect, the main characters of this book are women and Furnivall presents us with two who are from vastly different backgrounds. Dodie, a British-born waitress, is living alone after the death of her father but she loves the mystery of the Bahamas and is more or less content living under the radar. However, Dodie’s life takes an unexpected turn when she finds a man stabbed in an alleyway and takes him home to nurse him. When the man later dies, Dodie feels compelled to find out what happened to him and she suddenly finds herself attracting the attention of the richest men on the island who seem to have a lot to hide. Dodie’s only hope for survival is a young man with dubious connections with whom she falls in love.
Ella, the bored wife of a wealthy diplomat, is soon caught up in the intrigue of Dodie’s investigation which threatens to unbalance the turbulent political climate of the islands. As the colonial families are targeted by the natives, Ella is assigned a young police detective as a bodyguard and she is soon embroiled in a steamy love affair which is doomed from the start. When the wealthy Harry Oakes is found dead and his son-in-law, Freddie de Marigny, is arrested for his murder, it becomes apparent the investigation is deliberately being thwarted by someone with powerful connections.
Sir Harry Oakes, an American-born British entrepreneur, is a real person who moved to the Bahamas in 1935 for tax purposes. Oakes invested a lot of money in the development of the islands and gave away millions to charities for which he received his knighthood. Within a few years, Oakes was one of the wealthiest men on the islands and is believed to have owned a third of the land. On 8 July 1943, Oakes’s battered body was discovered in his mansion and an immediate investigation was launched by his close friend, the Duke of Windsor, who was Governor of the Bahamas at that time. The duke tried to keep the murder under wraps from the press but his attempts were unsuccessful and before long the murder was gathering worldwide attention.
The duke brought in two American detectives to assist in the investigation since he believed the Bahamian police were too inexperienced to cope with a murder of this magnitude and it wasn’t long before Oakes’s son-in-law, Freddie de Marigny, was arrested. De Marigny never got along with his father-in-law, however he protested his innocence and during the subsequent trial, the evidence against him was proved to be questionable and he was eventually acquitted.
The real murderer was never found and there has been much speculation into the motives behind the killing ever since. The Duke of Windsor’s handling of the investigation has also come under scrutiny, particularly his deliberate absence from de Marigny’s trial, and there have been insinuations that the duke was warned off by Meyer Lansky, a mob boss who had set his sights on developing casinos in the Bahamas.
The mystery behind Oakes’s death has obviously intrigued many over the years, but I really couldn’t summon any enthusiasm for it as it is presented in The Far Side of the Sun. Dodie’s investigation seemed completely pointless to me and I really didn’t understand why she felt so compelled to see justice done for a man she barely knew. Ella was in a far better position to investigate as she is part of the social circle to which Oakes and his contemporaries belong, and part of me can’t help thinking the book could have focused more on her rather than Dodie.
I also don’t understand why Furnivall chose to ignore Oakes’s daughter, Nancy, who became such a focal point for the press during her husband’s trial. The murder of Oakes happens quite late in the novel so the trial is never explored but there was plenty scope for it and could have gone a long way to make the story more interesting. Unfortunately, both Dodie and Ella are quite dull as protagonists and much of the richer aspects of the plot are never fully realised, such as the mob connections and the political unrest on the islands.
Furnivall is a good writer and I usually enjoy her books but the last two haven’t been anywhere near her usual standard.