the bookmaker from rabaul reviewed
From Thomas Davis: 4 stars Amazon.com
Everything comes into focus.
I read this right after it came out on Amazon and have been thinking about how to respond ever since. What I finally decided was that The Bookmaker from Rabaul is a lot like a pointillist painting. In this case the dots are made from passages that create a moment, an incident, and an emotion. The story itself is not always clear until you keep reading. Then, as you go along, everything comes into focus, and the tale, and even some of its major themes, become clear.
In the end I enjoyed this book. It left me with a feeling of discovery. Who was the Bookmaker from Rabaul? The Rubaiyat? What does that have to do with a story of an Australian as the chaos of retreat from Hong Kong consumes the character’s world?
The focus of the book changes and changes, building up the pointillist tale. And then they end up on a beach, a mystery as deep as the Rubaiyat itself. And we know what happened. We can look back and see the entire canvas spread out in front of us.
From John Stevens: 5 stars Amazon UK
The story comes together like a jigsaw.
This is a book that doesn’t want to be pigeonholed. In part it is crime fiction because there is an unexplained death to which this book provides an imaginary backstory. It is equally a tale of espionage and counter espionage that brings in the security services of Australia, the UK, the USA and the USSR. And it is the story of the war in Southeast Asia and its aftermath.
It is not a ‘literary’ novel but it is a well-wrought page turner with well-researched background colour and a convincing narrative. Nothing would induce me to spoil the plot but I would advise readers to have patience. The early chapters move about from Hong Kong to Singapore to Indonesia and beyond, introducing a wide cast list and there are many puzzles: who are these people, what are they doing and how do they connect? This is no simple whodunnit. But Peter Bowes is an accomplished writer of short stories* and his short chapters paint such convincing scenes that the story slowly comes together like a jigsaw.
There is also a lengthy afterword which sets out what is known about the actual body on the beach and which shows just how baffling was the evidence. It’s quite fun to look back at Peter Bowes’ story to see the use he has made of the many bewildering clues.
The author’ style is accessible: conversational but literate. There is suspense but also wry humour. I plan to read it again some time, possibly on a long haul flight – the time will pass very quickly.