Domino Island: The unpublished thriller by the master of the genre
By Desmond Bagley, and and, Michael Davies
Discovered after more than 40 years, a vintage action-adventure novel set on Domino Island – a Caribbean paradise toppling under murder, corruption and organised crime…Tweet
Back in the day, Desmond Bagley was a writer who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with authors like Alistair MacLean, Hammond Innes, Len Deighton and Dick Francis. His novels were hugely popular and usually pitched a more-or-less ‘Joe Normal’ hero into a headlong adventure against out-and-out villains. In total, Bagley published 16 thrillers (all of them best sellers) before he died in 1983 at the age of just 59.
And that should have been the end of the story. But in 2017 a first-draft manuscript of an unpublished novel (with hand-written annotations) was discovered in Bagley’s papers, as well as correspondence between author and publisher which revealed how the next draft would develop. HarperCollins asked the writer, Michael Davies, to complete the book and in May this year Domino Island was published.
Bagley’s notes showed that he wanted the book to be a ‘classic whodunnit’ and although he’d given the story the working title of Because Salton Died, he’d told his publishers that if they could think of a better title they should go ahead.
I’m not sure how much work Michael Davies had to do on the manuscript, or whether he had to change the story much, but fans of vintage thrillers and Desmond Bagley will obviously find Domino Island a treat. I also suspect that new readers will enjoy the book too, because it’s very readable. Yes, it’s set in the 1970s but the story is told so cleverly that it seems pretty timeless. There are guns, fast cars, boats and planes but the technology (or lack of it) is downplayed, so there’s nothing to jar.
The sleeve notes explain the plot as follows:
“Bill Kemp, an ex-serviceman working in London as an insurance investigator, is sent to the Caribbean to verify a life insurance claim that will make property magnate David Salton's young widow a very rich lady.
As Kemp begins to discover that Salton's political ambitions had made him a lot of enemies, and that his friends are reluctant to reveal themselves, local tensions around the forthcoming elections spill over into protest and violence on the streets - and murder.”
There’s more than a hint of Fleming in the plot. The novel is set on an exotic Caribbean island where there’s a casino, rich jet-set gamblers, the Mafia, corrupt politicians and cops, kidnapping, murder and more.
This isn’t a ‘classic whodunnit’ particularly. Nor is it a classic action-adventure. But it is a good read. You get drawn into the story pretty quickly and the pace is maintained throughout. If I have one gripe it’s that the final stand-off feels hurried, as if everyone was anxious to shut up shop and go home. But balance that against being able to read a new book by Desmond Bagley and I know I’m being churlish.
It’s not just sentiment to give Domino Island 4-Stars.
P.S. As a Bagley fan I’m of the right age to appreciate the ‘Curator’s Note’ by Michael Davies at the beginning of the book, where he explains the background and being asked to get Domino Island ready for publication. Even more fascinating though, is the ‘Afterword’ by Philip Eastwood, a leading authority on Desmond Bagley. He’s the man who discovered the manuscript and he also runs the website thebagleybrief.com. The ‘Afterword’ is, in many ways, as interesting as the book itself, so do read it.
Oundle Library's Crime Fiction Book Group
A great thriller with many twists and turns. Found it difficult to put down.
I must confess that this is the first Desmond Bagley Book I have read. However I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it definitely kept the pages turning. Set on a fictional Caribbean island, it reminded me of a James Bond adventure.
Desmond Bagley died in 1983 but left behind a trove of his papers. A recent discovery of a "lost" first draft of a manuscript along with the author's notes for revision has given us this fast paced murder mystery and thriller. Bill Kemp is an insurance investigator who is sent to a small Caribbean island to look into the death of a important policyholder. He finds himself in the middle of political upheaval and intrigue. Colleagues and friends are menaced and murdered. Who can he trust? What can he believe?
Is he a pawn in a much bigger story?
I think this would be a good vacation book. It was engaging but not a book you couldn't put down and pick back up. The original was written over 30 years ago and is feels a bit dated. There are segments of the book that feel disjointed somehow and the writing style differs just a smidge. In some places the pace feels stilted--too fast paced or too much trivial detail. This said I enjoyed "Domino Island" and am happy to have read it and would recommend it with the proviso not to expect a vintage Bagley book.
Domino Island is a thriller set in the 1970s. Written by Desmond Bagley in 1972, it was only recently discovered in the long-dead author's archives. The book weaves its way through corruption, murder, adultery, politics and even a little bit of love.
The main character, Bill Kemp, is an insurance investigator who travels to a Caribbean island where he investigates whether his company can pay out on a death claim. In this case, the dead man is a wealthy, outspoken could-have-been president of the small island. Even in death, the victim sparks controversy, riots and mystery on Domino Island.
Things come unstuck when Kemp discovers things that don't add up. The story takes lots of twists and turns. The writing is sharp and crisp and makes you want to turn the page. The characters are dynamic and unsuspecting.
It is clear the book was set nearly fifty years ago as there are a number of references to things like typewriters on jets, plugging phones into sockets near the pool, crackling, snapping and popping on an international phone line, and using a telephone switchboard. I found it to be a nostalgic reminder of how things used to be.
There are a couple of parts of the book that didn't work for me. For example, the scene at the prime minister's cocktail party where too much happens in a short space of time - all the key players appear and have something to say.
Likewise, Mr Black/Negrini seems too good to be true. He's a casino boss, but on other occasions, tucks Kemp into bed, offers him breakfast and has four kids who he shows open, cooing affection for. He's connected to the mafia in the States, but somehow, he doesn't seem savvy enough to believe.
Having said that, I liked this book very much. It's a lively, well-written thriller that holds the reader's interest.
Desmond Bagley wrote this book in 1972, submitted it to the publishers but then withdrew it from publication. It has lain dormant since then, presumed lost, but was discovered recently among his papers. Bill Kemp is an investigator with a London insurance company. When one of their clients, David Salton, dies in somewhat mysterious circumstances, his life insurance payout is going to be costly for the company and Bill is sent over to the Caribbean to look into the matter. It soon becomes apparent that David was heavily involved in the political side of island life and his death is causing some serious unrest among both the population and his rival politicians. He had also made a lot of enemies. The action soon escalates in typical Desmond Bagley style, culminating in an exciting showdown.
It is an unusual book as Bagley originally set out to write a classic “whodunnit”, rather than his usual adventure thriller. It has to be said that he was not entirely successful in this venture and soon reverts to type, veering more towards the thriller that he is so well known for. It is a thoroughly enjoyable read, for the most part fast-paced, action-packed and full of tension. The climax is legendary Bagley.
The only quibble that I had was that I felt it got a little bogged down in politics for a patch in the middle. Personally I was struggling to stay abreast of who was supporting which party but it all sorted itself out in the end.
Sadly I am guessing that there won’t be any more unpublished manuscripts discovered but if you have not read Desmond Bagley before, and you enjoy a good adventure book, I thoroughly recommend both this one and all of his others.