Thriller Corner: Domino Island by Desmond Bagley #BookReview

Bill Kemp, an ex-serviceman working in London as an insurance investigator, is sent to the Caribbean to determine the legitimacy of an expensive life insurance claim following the inexplicable death of businessman David Salton. His rapidly inflated premiums immediately before his death stand to make his young widow a very rich lady! Once there, Kemp discovers that Salton’s political ambitions had made him a lot of enemies, and local tensions around a forthcoming election are already spilling over into protest and violence on the streets. Salton also had friends in unexpected places, including the impossibly beautiful Leotta Tomsson, to whom there is much more than meets the eye. Kemp realises that Salton’s death and the local unrest are a deliberate smokescreen for an altogether more ambitious plot by an enemy in their midst, and as the island comes under siege, even Kemp’s army training seems feeble in the face of such a determined foe.

Title: Domino Island | Author: Desmond Bagley | Publisher: HarperCollins| Pages: 320 | ISBN: 9780008333010 | Publication date: 16th May 2019 | Source: Purchased

Desmond Bagley is one of those authors I was very aware of as a child. My dad was a fan of his books, as was my grandad. His books lined their shelves along with the works of authors like Alistair MacLean, Hammond Innes and Clive Cussler. Bagley’s book ‘High Citadel’ was one of the first books for adults that I read, but it was Cussler that I too ended up becoming an avid reader of.

‘Domino Island’ has been published recently as a “lost” Bagley book. It’s a manuscript he wrote in the 1970s and submitted to his publisher, but which never made it to the shelves because it didn’t fit the market at the time. This edition contains an interesting piece on Bagley and the history of ‘Domino Island’, or ‘Because Salton Died’ as it was originally titled.

Unlike most of Bagley’s books, which are adventure or espionage thrillers, ‘Domino Island’ is, for most of his length at least, a whodunnit. The hero, Bill Kemp, is an investigator for an insurance company who travels to a Caribbean island to investigate the death of an important businessman, David Salton. Once there he uncovers an unsurprising web of corruption, as well as Salton’s beautiful widow and equally attractive mistress.

The mystery elements are entertaining enough, as Kemp learns of the turbulent politics on the island and understands Salton’s place in them. It’s in the final third that the book really comes into its own though. Bagley slips back into more traditional thriller mode once the truth behind Salton’s death is revealed and Kemp begins a race against time to stop the killers. The action comes thick and fast and is genuinely gripping. It’s certainly given me an appetite to read more of Bagley’s books.

What’s lacking from ‘Domino Island’ is any real flavour of Caribbean life. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that it was written by a Caucasian Englishman in the 1970s, it’s an incredibly white book. Despite it’s setting, there are no black characters of note, the focus being instead on well-meaning whites who are trying to make things better for the locals. That’s disappointing, but doesn’t detract from the expert thriller writing of that final act.


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