Colonial New Guinea, 1906. A small group of mostly German nudists live an extreme back-to-nature existence on the remote island of Kabakon. Eating only coconuts and bananas, they purport to worship the sun. One of their members, Max
Lutzow, has recently died, allegedly from malaria. But an autopsy on his body in the nearby capital of Herbertshöhe raises suspicions about foul play.
Retired British military police officer Will Prior is recruited to investigate the circumstances of Lutzow’s death. At first, the eccentric group seems friendly and willing to cooperate with the investigation.
They all insist that Lutzow died of malaria. Despite lack of evidence for a murder, Prior is convinced the group is hiding something.
Things come to a head during a late-night feast supposedly given as a send-off for the visitors before they return to Herbertshöhe. Prior fears the intent of the “celebration” is not to fete the visitorsbut to make them the latest murder victims.
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About the Author
Adrian McKinty was born and grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He attended Oxford University on a full scholarship where he studied philosophy. In the mid 1990’s he moved to New York and found work in bars, bookstores and building sites, finally becoming a high school English teacher in Denver, Colorado. In 2004 Adrian’s debut crime novel, Dead I Well May Be, was shortlisted for the Dagger Award and was optioned by Universal Pictures. Since then his books have sold over half a million copies and been translated into a dozen languages. Adrian won the 2017 Edgar Award and is a two time winner of the Ned Kelly Award and the Barry Award.
Read an Excerpt
The Sun Is God
By ADRIAN McKINTY
Seventh Street BooksCopyright © 2014 Adrian McKinty
All rights reserved.
MASSACRE ON THE GROOT HOEK RIVER
Lieutenant William Prior should never have been on duty that night. The war was nearly over and Will and three other officers of the Military Foot Police had been on their way to a saloon in Bloemfontein. On the track down from the camp a starved lioness had launched an attack on Lieutenant Rigby's horse. A shot in the air sent the skinny creature scurrying into the bush, but Rigby fell and broke an ankle. Riding double with Rigby, Will reached the field hospital just after nine where he surrendered his friend to the efficient hands of Harry Douglas of the Royal Army Medical Corps.
A breathless enlisted man ran over to Prior. "Lieutenant Prior, sir, lukin for thissin, sir, trouble at Camp Z. T' kaffirs. Blow up, sir, or as near as makes na matter."
Sergeant Black was a Yorkshireman from some hamlet in the North Riding and while few in the regiment could follow anything he said, Will could understand him perfectly. Will had grown up in Leeds, and as the son of a popular doctor he had come into contact with every social class in the county.
"Who is supposed to be in charge of Camp Z, Sergeant Black?"
"Lieutenant Ashcroft, sir, but he's legged it, sir. Drunk, sir."
"What sort of trouble is it?"
"Know nowt, sir. Corporal Townes comes running t' camp, sir, screaming about t' kaffirs and Lieutenant Ashcroft, sir."
"All right, let's get over there, sergeant, and see if we can't sort this out between us, eh?"
Camp Z was across the valley on the other side of the Vaalkop about three miles from the field hospital. Both men got their horses from the stables and rode together across the barren wasteland that had been rich wheat and barley fields until the previous winter when they'd been torched on the orders of General Kitchener.
The sky was cloudy and moonless and the two men could see virtually nothing. Bats flitted above the horses' ears and great moths the size of small birds collided with man and beast.
As they got closer to the Groot Hoek River they could hear the sound of gunfire and yelling. Will nudged his pony into a canter and Sergeant Black followed suit.
Camp Z was a "concentration camp" for African prisoners who had worked in some capacity for the Boers in the Orange Free State. The condition for most inmates in the British camps had improved since the findings of the Fawcett Commission and the noisy campaigns of Emily Hobhouse and David Lloyd-George. Before Hobhouse's polemics in the liberal press, thousands of Boer women and children had perished from malnutrition and disease while their menfolk were shipped to prison camps overseas. Over the last year however the Boer camps had seen ameliorated food supplies and the establishment of prison hospitals, but the truth was that almost nothing had been done to better the lot of the native African prisoners. No one in England or Germany or anywhere else got terribly worked up about the well-being of inmates in the "kaffir camps."
As they neared Camp Z, Will and Sergeant Black saw the first escapee, a boy of about eleven, running blindly toward the town with blood pouring from a head wound.
Sergeant Black raised his rifle but Will shook his head. One runaway child didn't amount to much. As they climbed the kop they passed another half dozen boys and one old man jogging up the hill. "Doesn't look good, sergeant," Will said.
"Nay, sir," Black agreed.
They followed the curve of the Groot Hoek River and galloped to the camp entrance where they found the situation parlous in the extreme. Seemingly the entire population of around a thousand men, women, and children was attacking the small Military Foot Police garrison who were lined up in two rows in front of the camp gates. Three of the MFP soldiers were already injured but a corporal was holding the nerve of the remaining men. Some of the prisoners were escaping over the barbed wire and others were in the process of ransacking the aid station and supply shed, but by far the biggest danger was the mob at the gate. If the line of a dozen military policemen broke, the entire camp could run off into the South African night.
Will was in his dress uniform, armed with a six-shot revolver and a cavalry sabre. He dismounted, unsheathed the sword, and ran to the camp entrance. "Lieutenant Prior assuming command!" he bellowed.
A terrified private let Sergeant Black and Will inside the gate and it was at that moment that the Africans surged forward again. Two volleys from the soldiers kept them back but Will could see that several dozen African men had ripped the corrugated iron roof from the storage shed and were preparing an assault from behind these improvised barriers. If the prisoners all charged at once they would certainly overrun the position.
"Sergeant Black, go to the guardhouse, find the bloody Maxim gun and bring it back here!"
Sergeant Black saluted and ran to the guardhouse. He did not ask the obvious question: what if Camp Z did not possess a Maxim gun?
"Does anyone know how this kicked off?" Will asked the soldiers.
"They've had no food or medicine for four days. The supplies haven't come through," a Scottish corporal told him. "We've been taking the dead ones out in carts, sir."
Will marched in front of the line of military policemen and addressed the mob. "Return to your tents at once! We will not hesitate to shoot if you attempt to escape!"
He was well aware that few if any of them spoke English but he hoped that his uniform and sword would at least have a visual impact. The mob jeered and someone threw an improvised spear at him which missed.
"Return to your tents at once! The food situation cannot be addressed until order has been restored!"
A skeletal woman dressed in rags ran to him from the mob and fell at his feet. He was horrified by her miserable, hollow face and bony outstretched fingers.
My God, were all the prisoners like this? He looked beyond the woman to the other inmates and from what he could see in the lamplight it was the same story: half dead, naked, brown stick-like figures with weeping sores and great gaping eyes.
For almost his entire time in South Africa he had been on standard policing duties in captured Boer towns or in the British garrison. He had heard the stories, of course, and even read the reports in the Manchester Guardian but he had expected nothing like this. He stepped away in horror and backed toward the British line.
"If you return to your tents I will make sure that food arrives tonight from the British commissary!" he yelled, but as he had expected none of the prisoners moved. He could see that many of the young men had armed themselves with rocks, stones, and spears that had been manufactured from wooden joists and sharpened tent pegs. And all at once assorted missiles began to fall among the soldiers.
"Do any of you speak Dutch?" Will asked the men.
One of the privates raised a nervous hand.
"Tell them that I will personally guarantee the arrival of food tonight from the commissary at the Vaalkop!"
The private raised his voice to shout to the mob in Dutch. Although many of the prisoners did understand what he was saying the situation was too far gone for further British promises.
More spears and stones and one of the soldiers went down hurt.
"Sergeant Black, tell me about the Maxim!" Will bellowed.
"Maxim ready to fire, sir!" Black said in the stolid Yorkshire burr that gave Will confidence.
"Excellent. Now, who is the best rider among you men?"
The soldiers looked at a short blonde private at the far end of the line.
"All right, you take my horse, ride over to the Vaalkop, find Major Potter, and briskly apprise him of the situation. Then ride to the field hospital and tell Lieutenant Douglas that we are in need of orderlies and medical assistance."
"Yes, sir!" the young man said, relieved to be getting out of here with his life.
Will addressed the nervous men. "Now lads, this is nothing to be alarmed about. We are British soldiers and they are unarmed African civilians who should pose no threat to the likes of us. We shall fire a warning volley in the air and then we'll advance by squads and drive these people back into their tents. Sergeant Black will cover us with the Maxim at the gates, and I think I can safely say that—"
A heavy stone struck Will on the head, knocking off his pith helmet.
He was only unconscious for a few moments, but when he came to he saw that the gates had been opened and half his command had deserted and were running for it. The mob was racing toward what was left of his men with their improvised weapons and corrugated iron shields.
A spear hit the Scottish corporal next to him and a private took a half brick in the head. Then Sergeant Black opened up with the Maxim gun. It didn't sound like much. Like water coming out of a drain or a fast pair of workmen hammering metal plate. It was not an unpleasant noise at all. Its effect, however, was devastating. Flame spat from the barrel and row upon row of Africans began falling to the ground. Will watched in awe and stupefaction. He had never been in a battle. He had never seen anything like this. Still they kept coming and Sergeant Black kept mowing them down like barley under the scythe, until, finally, the mob began to understand what kind of a machine the Maxim gun was.
"Cease fire!" Will commanded.
Only one minute had passed since Sergeant Black had begun to shoot. One minute and all was changed. Africans were dead and dying in row upon row. Sergeant Black had undoubtedly saved the lives of the remaining soldiers, but at what cost?
Will walked back to the military policemen who had gathered round the Maxim gun in amazement. Its brass was searingly hot and the holy words "Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken, Berlin, 1898" glowed in the darkness.
All around them the air smelled of blood and gunpowder and death.
Presently a detachment of Australian troopers showed up with a group of MFP's from the Vaalkop. No one could believe the slaughter. When Lieutenant Douglas appeared and attempted to examine Will's head wound, Will pushed him angrily away. "Not me, you fool! Them! Treat them!"
Nineteen had been killed outright. A further sixty-five were wounded. The incident at Camp Z did not merit a mention in the Manchester Guardian or the Times or even in the fervently anti-British Dutch and German papers. The dead, after all, were only kaffirs. Will was not criticized by anyone. Quite the reverse. His actions were widely praised. He was mentioned in dispatches to General Kitchener and a month later he was informed that he was going to be awarded a DSO. They normally didn't give the Distinguished Service Order to anyone under the rank of Major, but since Will had been the acting commanding officer at Camp Z it had been deemed appropriate. The citation said: "For gallantly leading his men in the face of the enemy."
He didn't react when he heard the news from Colonel Wilson but when he saw his name in the Gazette a month later he was physically sick.
Excerpted from The Sun Is God by ADRIAN McKINTY. Copyright © 2014 Adrian McKinty. Excerpted by permission of Seventh Street Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Having just read the latest in this author’s Detective Sean Duffy novels, and loved it, I was greatly looking forward to his most recent book, and was not in the least disappointed. Although the setting is as different from 1980’s Ireland as possible, this book is equally terrific, with funny and original writing that makes for a terrific read. Since I couldn’t summarize the plot any more efficiently, I quote from the back of the book: “Colonial New Guinea, 1906. A small group of mostly German nudists, known as the Cocovores, live in extreme back-to-nature existence on the remove island of Kabakon. Eating only coconuts and bananas, they purport to worship the sun. One of their members has recently died, allegedly from malaria. But an autopsy in the nearby capital of Herbertshohe raises suspicions of foul play.” The governor of that capital city appoints retired British military police officer Will Prior to investigate the death, so he travels to “tranquil Kabakon, one of the safe, forgotten islands that lay between New Britain and New Ireland in the deep and ancient waters off the Bismarck Sea.” A very real island, as it happens (the author includes notes on its history in the early days of the 20th century as well as the WWII era), as is the village of Herbertshohe, where even the servants have servants, and where “the day belonged to man, but the night belonged to the things that creeped and crawled and flew from tree to tree in the dense, ancient, primordial jungle.” And the mysterious death that is at the center of the book was real as well. When Prior arrives, he finds the present-day inhabitants of the island (including, unexpectedly, three women) are all quite odd, and possibly mad. Prior notes that one of them, a medical doctor, is thought to be about 55 years old, “which is possibly ancient in the fever latitudes.” The investigation proceeds along inventive lines, and the result is thoroughly satisfying. The book is, as was the author’s prior novel, highly recommended.
Disappointment. What started as an interesting and colorful book (mysterious death in a tropical colonial nudist community ) devolves into something discombobulated, far fetched and not really fitting together, with neither story nor believable characters nor mystery nor solution. I grade the books as Buy and Keep (BK), Read Library book and Return ( RLR) and Once I Put it Down I Couldn't Pick it Up ( OIPD-ICPU). This one is a classic OIPD-ICPU.