THE KING OVER THE WATER by Michael Pye

THE KING OVER THE WATER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A dramatist searching the Duke of Windsor's life for a point-of-no-return might well settle on his wartime posting/exile to the Bahamas--""the King's surrogate who still trailed the glory of having once been King."" The royal defector in a minor, but real, colonial post. But whatever the emotional truth of the construct, Pye, a British journalist and author with a penchant for theses (The Movie Brats, The Moguls), simply hasn't the hard evidence to make it factually convincing; and his resort to melodrama--to the allegation that Windsor was discredited not by his lifelong failings, thrown into relief, but by his close brush with ""treason, riot and murder"" (the book's three major sections)-- so compromises his case as to make it seem contrived from the outset. A further difficulty for even the receptive reader is the heavy load of Bahamian politics: Pye wants to show just how Windsor's stabs at social and economic reform were thwarted by Nassau's Bay Street oligarchy, as well as his mix of sympathy and contempt for the islands' blacks--plus, too, his suspect dealings with Nazi sympathizers, his enlightened but shortsighted response to racial rioting, his mishandling of the murder of despised mogul Sir Harry Oakes (and complicity, perhaps, in the attempted framing of Oakes' son-in-law Alfred de Marigny). The book is most effective, indeed, as a snippet of British colonial history: how Prohibition rum-running ""softened the edges of hard morality""; the need, thereafter, to promote the islands' scenic real estate; the resistance to reform, even funded by Britain--as presaging change. It is least successful as a news-breaking demonstration that the Windsors, in the Bahamas as before, were less than ""staunchly loyal to the war effort""--first, because others have said as much; second, because Pye's attempt to pin specific misdeeds on the pair (mostly re currency dealings) is a morass of innuendo and conjecture. Unlike other Windsor biographers, however, he doesn't dwell on how many pieces of luggage the Windsors took on their ill-advised American jaunts; and unlike recent chroniclers--Bryan and Murphy, in The Windsor Story, or Stephen Birmingham, in Duchess (above)--he takes both the Duke and the Duchess seriously. (We see the Duchess breaking a white taboo to actually ""measure and weigh and tend"" black babies in her clinics, setting up and running the islands' canteens for servicemen, training herself to be ""an effective public person."") It's only too bad that Pye didn't confine his review of the episode to what he could properly and concretely show.

Pub Date: July 20th, 1981
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston