“Few who patronised the Darwish did not know Gran Jones, and virtually every permanent resident of the island, native and expatriate alike, knew of him.”
At the start you can’t help but think of Graham Greene and his tales of hacks stuck out in remote places living on the expenses provided by newspapers based back in Blighty as they struggle with lives that are falling apart. But as you read deeper into the book that feeling starts to disappear.
What makes this different is the central character Granville Jones who is not only old, alone and at one point soaked in his own urine after a stroke but clearly is not benefiting from being the man who knew everything.
If anything it is what he doesn’t know that has landed him in trouble with his marriage falling apart, his position with the rest of the world shrinking as he becomes more and more marooned in his house in a remote Arab state. But his reputation is based on the friendships and relationships he established years ago.
So when a major story happens on his own patch, one he initially misses altogether, the question really becomes one of whether or not Jones has the appetite to go for the big story one last time. The fact he does is more down to a sense of wanting to find out what has happened to the ruler, someone he knows, as the result of a coup. But as he gets one of the biggest stories of his life the competitive urge kicks in.
As he struggles to file a story that will discredit the coup and change history and restore his friend the Emir to power Jones slips away.
This book in many ways is a swansong for those glory days of the foreign correspondents and those hacks who went all over the world in the hunt for the story. They are still out there but in the web age it is not the same and the world Stacey describes here seems to have gone forever.
One of the problems with this book is that it reminds you of some many others. You think of Our man in Havana, The Quiet American by Greene and it also sparks off other memories of films. But putting that familiarity to one side the story does slowly start to creep up on you.
Trying to identify with an aged hack who has based himself on a small Arab nation is not something that comes naturally but underneath the old exterior the desire to get the story out still seems to be there.
In many ways it is describing a lost world of foreign correspondents, Fleet Street and newspapers of the old school. Waiting to see how the second half develops.