I was intrigued as I knew the book was to be a fictional exploration of the murder of Sir Harry Oates, the American born mining magnate, who made a vast fortune when he found gold in northern Ontario and built the Lake Shore gold mine.
While purportedly a work of fiction the book is not a mystery but a non-fiction narrative of the intertwined lives of Sir Harry, Harold Christie (Bahamian real estate developer and promoter), Count Alfred de Marigny (accused of murdering Sir Harry) and the Duke of Windsor (the former King Edward VII serving as the Governor of the Bahamas).
Minns tossed in a narrator, George McNeilly, a former Toronto Star newspaper journalist who has left Toronto in 1946 for the Bahamas after the failure of his marriage because of his chronic alcohol abuse. Sober in the Bahamas McNeilly is a chain smoker who constantly needs to be holding a cigarette.
McNeilly, drawn to the mystery of Sir Harry’s death, decides to solve the murder. He makes inquiries into the 1943 murder and trial of de Marigny. He is discreet for he is aware that individuals investigating after the trial had died.
Unfortunately the narrative is rather disjointed. It is not easy to follow the information provided about the quartet at the heart of the mystery.
Sir Harry has led an incredible life pursuing gold in Alaska, the Yukon and Australia before finding gold in Ontario. He becomes the wealthiest man in Canada and is singled out for taxation by the federal government. He leaves for the Bahamas because of the lack of taxes in the islands.
Christie has been instrumental in developing Nassau and the rest of the island of New Providence. He is constantly promoting the Bahamas.
De Marigny, born in Mauritius, eschews the title of Count. In the parlance of the time he is a playboy who marries Sir Harry’s daughter, Nancy, when she is 18 and he is in his early 30’s.
The Duke, in exile, after giving up the throne for the woman he loves, Mrs. Simpson, has been sent to be Governor as he is perceived as a Nazi sympathizer and being posted to the Bahamas will keep him out of the way during the war.
Within a couple of days after Sir Harry’s death de Marigny is charged with murder.
The book covers the trial which ended in de Marigny’s acquittal and an unusual recommendation from the jury that he be expelled from the Bahamas.
The trial is the most interesting part of the book as de Marigny’s skilled counsel, Godfrey Higgs, wreaks havoc with the sloppy investigation.
McNeilly develops a love interest in Pat but their relationship is almost an afterthought grafted on to the factual narrative.
I persevered to the end of the book as I wanted to find out the facts and see who Mimms had decided killed Sir Harry
In the unlikely event you might actually read the book do not read further in the post.
There is dramatic evidence over fingerprints, usually a routine part of trials. The defence cleverly uses the science of the day. The skilfully mounted legal defence scientifically shows a pivotal Crown fingerprint could not have been on the part of the screen the fingerprint was alleged to have come from in Sir Harry’s bedroom.
The trial is not enough to rescue the book.
At the end I was just plain frustrated when a plot twist denied me the chance to know who McNeilly had identified as the killer. The title is a teaser.
The unique aspect of the book was a CD in a sleeve attached to the back cover that contains a song, Who Killed Sir Harry, that Minns wrote and performs. If he was as good an author as he is song writer and singer it would have been a good book.
Interested readers would be better off to purchase a non-fiction account of the murder. (Mar. 8/14)