Santiago’s Purple Skies at Morning’s Light by Bernadette Gabay Dyer (Guest Review by Ursula Pflug)

Sixteen-year-old Kathleen Dunkley lives in a small Ontario town several hours north of Kingston. After her parents die in an automobile accident, a neighbour sends her to Toronto with the address of an old friend. It turns out the old friend has passed on, and the current owner of the house, a gentlemanly Jamaican immigrant by the name of Walker T.  Robinson takes Kathleen in. His other tenants are two young women, Gracie and Claudia. When Claudia unexpectedly inherits a historical plantation house in Jamaica, she asks her landlord and her best friend Gracie to help her settle her affairs there as she is unfamiliar with the country. Walker T. insists Kathleen joins them as he feels affection for the girl and is protective. Once in Jamaica, they stay in a beachfront hotel in Montego Bay on their way to Santiago House and here the vivid descriptions of beautiful Jamaica begin.

“Dyer is adept, not just at taking us on a tour of her homeland so vivid we feel as if we are there but to keep us turning pages.”

The locals warn the party that the property is haunted by Santiago, a child of Spanish descent kept captive by the White Witch Annie Palmer, the infamous owner of Rose Hall, a nearby plantation house rife with secrets. The plot races from the discovery of secret underground passages to the appearance of duppies or ghosts in the Jamaican patois to altercations with drug dealers. Between supernatural and other sorts of adventures Claudia, Gracie and Kathleen each find romance and their romantic adventures are discussed over tea or rum punch as much as their worries about hauntings, armed home invaders, storms, fire and more. What doesn’t happen to them?  Dyer is adept, not just at taking us on a tour of her homeland so vivid we feel as if we are there but to keep us turning pages.

This book has not been sufficiently proofread or copyedited. There are myriad instances of misplaced or missing punctuation marks. It bothered me in the initial northern Ontario chapters, but once the merry gang arrived in Jamaica I stopped noticing, caught up in the immersive storytelling. Nevertheless, this is something that ought to have taken care of. Dyer has an excellent ear for language, her characters speaking in Canadian English, Jamaican English with a few words of patois thrown in, and patois non-Jamaicans won’t understand without translation. Jamaica is a multi-cultural country and most of the population (and Dyer’s characters) are mixed race: black, Chinese, South Asian and white. Irish-Canadian newcomer Kathleen is interested in the history that makes this so and we learn alongside her. A cursory search tells me the White Witch legend has been discredited; no matter, for while we are haunted by Santiago and possessed by Annie Palmer, we are also learning about slavery on the sugar plantations of Jamaica. This may well have been Dyer’s intention, and she manages it mostly without info-dumps, no mean feat.

See also  The Body On The Beach by Patrick J. Collins

About the Author: Bernadette Gabay Dyer was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and has lived in Toronto, Canada for several years. She is a poet, a storyteller, an artist, a playwright and an author. Her work has been anthologized widely and her short stories and poetry have been published in Canadian literary magazines, as well as the University of Miami’s journal, and London England’s St. Mary’s University’s Wasafiri. Recently, her poetry was included in the collection, TAMARACKS Canadian Poetry for the 21st Century, published by Lummox Press in the United States.

About the Reviewer: Born in Tunis to German parents in 1958, Ursula Pflug grew up in Toronto. She attended the University of Toronto and The Ontario College of Art and Design. In workshop settings, she studied playwriting with Judith Thompson and speculative fiction with Judith Merril. She has travelled in Canada, the US, North Africa, Europe, Jamaica, Japan, and Mexico. She has lived in New York City and in Hawai’i. Formerly a graphic designer, she focused on her writing after relocating to rural Peterborough County with her family in 1987 and currently lives in the village of Norwood with her partner, the multi-media artist Doug Back.

Santiago’s Purple Skies at Morning’s Light by Bernadette Gabay Dyer
Hidden Brook Press

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James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. The Miramichi Reader (TMR) —Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases— highlights noteworthy books and authors across Canada from coast to coast to coast (est. 2015). James works and resides in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife and their tabby cat.

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