Will Prior is a failing plantation owner in German New Guinea when his friend Lieutenant Kessler comes to request his assistance. Will is a former British military police officer who left the service after a massacre of rioting prisoners in South Africa. Kessler has come to ask him to help investigate a possible murder on a nearby island.
The island is occupied by a cult of mostly German nudists who call themselves Cocovores. They eat only coconuts and bananas and are sun worshippers. The pilot who brought Max Lutzow’s body back to Herbertshöhe, the regional capital, was told Lutzow died of malaria. But an autopsy reveals that he drowned.
Prior and Kessler are dismayed to find that they are expected to take a woman along with them on the investigation, Bessy Pullen-Burry, a travel writer. She is coming as a representative for Queen Emma.
The investigation seems to go nowhere almost immediately. Although the autopsy indicates otherwise, all the Cocovores tell the same story of malaria. The only discrepancy is whether Ann Schwab was with Lutzow right until he died. Yes, the investigators are surprised to find three women among the nudists, whom they had understood were all men.
Even though the investigation seems to stall, hampered by the islanders’ consumption of high-grade Bayer heroin, which they believe to be nonaddictive, Will grows worried about his party’s safety. They are not finding any evidence, but something is wrong, and they only have one opportunity a day to leave the island.
This novel is very well written and compelling, although it suffers from the feeling that no investigation is going on. So many men are on the island that I had difficulty keeping track of them and didn’t get much of a sense of their personalities. Still, the setting and situation are atmospheric and there’s a surprising shift of point of view at the end.