Vernon Lee Walker, a young Englishman from industrial Wolverhampton, meets his death on a beach on Pentecost Island in the South Pacific on the eve of Christmas 1887.
Why did Vernon die, in what circumstances, and who was responsible? Was he, as once branded, simply a ‘bad colonist’? Or was he a Candide, an innocent abroad, mixing invisibly with the rich and famous, manipulated by a calculating brother, unable to change the world around him?
An historian finds Vernon’s letters home to England, spanning a dozen years. With decreasing frequency, these follow his trajectory, first in Melbourne and Sydney, then as he yields to the spell of the Pacific. But what happens between the lines? Does he fall in love with his brother’s wife? What does a boy not tell his mother?
The novelist steps in. This is a unique fusion of authentic history and informed invention – a tragic story of colonialism in Australia and the Pacific, told with compassion, humour and a deep understanding of time and place.
‘Original, authentic, beautifully written, a page turner. One of the best books we’ve read in ages. A prize winner – quite different, a standout performance.’ – Vicki Steggall, author of The Goannas of No.1 Martin Place
‘A rich, generous book and its scholarly underpinning is impressive.’ – Dr Brenda Niall AO, FAHA, Australian biographer, literary critic and journalist