THE MIGHTY JESTER by Mary Chamberlain


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Here’s a Caribbean murder melodrama, written by a British historian who specializes in that area.

It’s the 1980s on an invented island, 20 years after it gained independence from the British; unfortunately, the island is so generic we might be on the moon. Chamberlain uses broad strokes to paint a majority black population and a white minority of former plantation owners and indentured laborers. Two women are her alternating narrators. Vanessa Francklyn's family has lived on the island for generations, and she has inherited a sugar plantation. Susie Howard is a British expatriate, an anthropology lecturer at the university (though we never see her on campus). In her mid-30s, Vanessa marries Cammy Turner, a white man who grew up poor but is now the richest man on the island thanks to his construction business. Susie has an affair with the Afro-Caribbean David Springer, poet, novelist and calypso singer, the eponymous Mighty Jester; his anti-establishment calypsos have won him a large following. David is married to Lucinda, an artist and rising star, whose patron and lover is Cammy Turner. This is way too schematic. It’s also troubling that the narrators' voices sound the same, though the women are polar opposites. Cammy turns into an abusive husband; Vanessa, a doormat wife. David is an attentive lover but low-key and passive, not protagonist material. Cammy is shot to death as a crime wave engulfs the island. There’s a big fat clue as to the killer’s identity, squelching the suspense. Still, we climb the “ladder of escalation.” David is scapegoated, arrested, tried in secret and sentenced to death. A frantic Susie flies to England and enlists legal help. Both narrators are now close to hysteria: Vanessa’s the victim of panic attacks, Susie’s the almost-victim of a strangler.

“What an awful, ghastly, wicked world,” says Susie. A hyperbolic one, too.

Pub Date: June 7th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-615-94020-5
Page count: 318pp
Publisher: Dr. Cicero Books
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2014


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