The Hamilton Case by Michelle de Krester - review by Christopher Ondaatje

Christopher Ondaatje

Of Mudaliyars and Men

The Hamilton Case


Chatto & Windus 297pp £10.99 order from our bookshop

O L DE KRETSER was a high-profile barrister in Ceylon. In 1942 his The Pope Murder Case, the true story of the murder of an English tea-planter and the trial of his lullers, was published by Caxton Press. Now his daughter, Michelle de Kretser, has written a novel, set in the 1930s, about the murder of an Enghsh tea-planter in Ceylon and the strange course that the eventual trial follows. It was an unusual time in the island of Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, when decay and corruption existed everywhere, and wealth and stature were powerful levers in a colonial society fast crumbling as political change prepared the way for independence.

The author paints an exotic picture of elephant hunts, vast tracts of jungle, Colombo house parties, up-country tea plantations and seaside retreats at the end of colonial rule. The novel takes the form of an autobiographical story, told by Stanley 'Sam' Obeysekera, a lawyer and one of a once wealthy but now debt-ridden fady comprising feuding parents (gambling father; beautifil, promiscuous and alcoholic mother) and a frail, disturbed sister who tragically marries a politician of the new order.

The family's affairs gravitate around the sensational Hamilton murder scandal, which sends shivers through

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