It's a treat to read a previously unpublished adventure by Desmond Bagley.
17/07/19Back in the day, Desmond Bagley was a writer who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with authors like Alistair MacLean, Hammond Innes, Len Deighton and Dick Francis. His novels were hugely popular and usually pitched a more-or-less ‘Joe Normal’ hero into a headlong adventure against out-and-out villains. In total, Bagley published 16 thrillers (all of them best sellers) before he died in 1983 at the age of just 59.
And that should have been the end of the story. But in 2017 a first-draft manuscript of an unpublished novel (with hand-written annotations) was discovered in Bagley’s papers, as well as correspondence between author and publisher which revealed how the next draft would develop. HarperCollins asked the writer, Michael Davies, to complete the book and in May this year Domino Island was published.
Bagley’s notes showed that he wanted the book to be a ‘classic whodunnit’ and although he’d given the story the working title of Because Salton Died, he’d told his publishers that if they could think of a better title they should go ahead.
I’m not sure how much work Michael Davies had to do on the manuscript, or whether he had to change the story much, but fans of vintage thrillers and Desmond Bagley will obviously find Domino Island a treat. I also suspect that new readers will enjoy the book too, because it’s very readable. Yes, it’s set in the 1970s but the story is told so cleverly that it seems pretty timeless. There are guns, fast cars, boats and planes but the technology (or lack of it) is downplayed, so there’s nothing to jar.
The sleeve notes explain the plot as follows:
“Bill Kemp, an ex-serviceman working in London as an insurance investigator, is sent to the Caribbean to verify a life insurance claim that will make property magnate David Salton's young widow a very rich lady. As Kemp begins to discover that Salton's political ambitions had made him a lot of enemies, and that his friends are reluctant to reveal themselves, local tensions around the forthcoming elections spill over into protest and violence on the streets - and murder.”
There’s more than a hint of Fleming in the plot. The novel is set on an exotic Caribbean island where there’s a casino, rich jet-set gamblers, the Mafia, corrupt politicians and cops, kidnapping, murder and more.
This isn’t a ‘classic whodunnit’ particularly. Nor is it a classic action-adventure. But it is a good read. You get drawn into the story pretty quickly and the pace is maintained throughout. If I have one gripe it’s that the final stand-off feels hurried, as if everyone was anxious to shut up shop and go home. But balance that against being able to read a new book by Desmond Bagley and I know I’m being churlish.
It’s not just sentiment to give Domino Island 4-Stars.
P.S. As a Bagley fan I’m of the right age to appreciate the ‘Curator’s Note’ by Michael Davies at the beginning of the book, where he explains the background and being asked to get Domino Island ready for publication. Even more fascinating though, is the ‘Afterword’ by Philip Eastwood, a leading authority on Desmond Bagley. He’s the man who discovered the manuscript and he also runs the website thebagleybrief.com. The ‘Afterword’ is, in many ways, as interesting as the book itself, so do read it.