Everything but the truth
Otto faced the board and chalked a line of characters, speaking as he wrote.
LIV11 XXIV31 XXXV 17 XVI 15.
“There are enough words in the Rubiayat to satisfy any message.”
This is a fictionalised account of the Somerton Man case.
An enduring Australian mystery that began in December 1948 when a body was discovered on Somerton Beach: a man, overdressed for hot weather and no clue as to his identity. Who was he? How and why did he die? Did the Somerton Man get out of his depth in a world of espionage and dark deeds beyond his control or comprehension? And what about Jessica – the woman he loved and whose life he changed forever. This vividly imagined and meticulously researched account offers a gripping fictional interpretation of a true-life mystery that remains unsolved to this day. A detailed afterword describes the people and events that inspired this book. Bennison Books
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. John Looker
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 5 March 2017.
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 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. Tom Davis.
Interesting take on a most interesting true story.
Fiction first. Followed with facts. One not muddled up in any way by the other. Great book with a fictional take that then includes all the facts! For anyone interested in this great mystery – A “must read”! Emcee.
Reviewed in Canada on 26 February 2017