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Bookmarks Issue: 
12-Sept-Oct-2004
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0
A-HamiltonCaseMysteries suffuse de Kretser’s second novel, which interweaves crime, politics, family, and the pretenses of personality in 1948 colonial Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Fusty, proper prosecutor Sam Obeysekere, employing cool British logic, must solve an intricate case—the murder of a white tea plantation overseer. He channels suspicion away from two Tamil workers, pinning the blame on the victim’s best friend. The resulting scandal sours his career, his family, and his self-image as a loyal son of the Empire. De Kretser, on the other hand, relishes the ensuing messiness and artfully captures the exotic culture and human condition, with nary a whiff of Merchant Ivory patness.
Little, Brown. 320 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0316735485

Independent (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"Like the country, this flamboyant account of love, murder and trauma in colonial Ceylon seethes with richly diverse cultures and entrancing but contradictory stories. ... The outcome is an utterly captivating blend of intellectual muscle and storytelling magic." Boyd Tonkin

Telegraph (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"Every so often there comes a novel for adults that combines a fastidious literary sensibility with that intense, urgent childhood readability, and then the result is as magical as the old childish enchantments. … The Hamilton Case is a novel so delicious that you have to keep stopping as you read, for fear of finishing too soon." Jane Shilling

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"… [a] clear-eyed, artfully constructed fable about the most comforting, and hence cruelest, myths of a single man’s long and dreadfully empty life. ... In its patient, layered portrait of a man’s colossal folly in acquiring an entirely mistaken view of his role in life, The Hamilton Case—originally published last year in de Kretser’s adopted homeland of Australia—has earned many comparisons with Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day." Chris Lehmann

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The rackety lives of Sam Obeysekere and his family eloquently illustrate the fundamental messiness and illogic of the human condition. … The Hamilton Case does enchant, certainly, but—more important—the book admirably and resolutely sees the world as it really is." William Boyd

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It’s a dark take, and if the novel doesn’t offer the tying knot of an Agatha Christie, its beautiful, delicate and scathing prose at least provides the ruminative gratification of serious literature." Brenn Jones

Sydney Morning Herald 3.5 of 5 Stars
"She might be writing beautiful prose about material that seems fabulously exotic—the lives of the rich in 1930s Ceylon, the jungle, a gothic family—but this complex book is doing far more than simply serving up Sri Lanka for the literary tourist. I read The Hamilton Case in a single day, greedily, absorbed in its narrative drive, its poised voice, its rich texture, its dense sense of life." Delia Falconer

Critical Summary

De Kretser’s delicacy, honesty and evocative style, which critics compare to Agatha Christie and Somerset Maugham’s, garnered praise in all quarters. Within a wholly compelling plot, she offers psychological insights rather than icy, intellectual dissections of the characters. However, the tale shifts through four points of view, a device disliked by several critics. Still, Obeysekere’s initially pompous, verbose, and mannered memoir struck some nerves. De Kretser handles the exotic material with authority, which is unsurprising given that the Sri Lankan author emigrated to Australia at age 14.

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