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In the lush, uninhibited atmosphere of Samoa, Robert Louis Stevenson is languishing with the disease that will soon kill him; when a chance encounter with the mysterious Scottish missionary, Mr Baker, turns his thoughts back to his conservative, post-Reformation Edinburgh home.
As Stevenson's meetings with the tantalizingly nebulous missionary become increasingly strange, a series of crimes against the native population sours the atmosphere. With its playful nod to Stevenson's life and work Manguel has woven an intoxicating tale in which fantasy infiltrates reality.
A deeply disturbed Robert Louis Stevenson, in the last year of his life, becomes embroiled in the investigation of the rape and murder of a Samoan woman, as well as a case of arson, in this intriguing, if slight, tale from Argentinean-born writer Manguel (A History of Reading). When the depressed Stevenson reveals the darkness of his mood to his wife through his latest fiction, she castigates him. He then burns the manuscript in a fireplace. Mr. Baker, a Scottish missionary of perhaps overzealous intent, makes Stevenson's acquaintance as the story begins and is there at the end to render an explanation for the mayhem an explanation that won't come as much of a surprise to those familiar with one of Stevenson's best-known novels. A fine stylist, Manguel punctuates the story with hyper-real descriptions of Samoa and Stevenson's memories of Edinburgh. The woodcuts by Stevenson himself that decorate the text add visual appeal, but this novelette will appeal more to readers of historical fiction than to crime fans. , will be published the same month.