The not-so-dashing Errol Flynn acts a part in a novel set in 1950s Jamaica.
Lots of teenage girls get crushes on Hollywood stars. Ida Joseph’s only problem is that she actually gets to know the star in question. Her dad, a Lebanese immigrant to Jamaica named Eli, works as a driver, real estate agent, and general factotum to Errol Flynn, an early Hollywood leading man who adopted Jamaica as a refuge later in his life. In The Pirate’s Daughter, Flynn is cast against his usual role: He’s no hearty outlaw or dashing Captain Blood, but instead a depressed, middle-aged man leading a hollow existence he tries to fill with an overload of alcohol and ever-younger girls. While he’s certainly no hero, this Flynn isn’t strong-minded enough to qualify as a full-blooded villain. Call him the selfish accident that sets in motion Margaret Cezair-Thompson’s evocative second novel. Cezair-Thompson (“The True History of Paradise”) mixes Jamaican history with 1950s glamour to tell the story of two young women of mixed race trying to find their place in a rapidly changing country.
The novel draws from real life, to a point. In 1946, Flynn’s boat actually was blown off-course by a hurricane, and when he landed in Jamaica to make repairs, it was love at first sight. The Tasmanian-born Flynn thought he’d found another island paradise to hide from his broken marriage and a statutory rape case making news in the United States. He bought a small island and threw lavish parties while waiting for the publicity storm to pass. Jamaicans, meanwhile, welcomed “The World’s Handsomest Man,” (by this time, it must be said, something of an honorary title) with open arms and gushing headlines. (“Flynn’s Fans Faint....”)
Here the novel creates a big “what if”: What if Flynn had an illegitimate daughter with a teenage girl? It is certainly not implausible. Flynn was brought up on statutory rape charges multiple times during his life. Cezair-Thompson manages to make the heedless matinee idol both entirely selfish and yet somewhat sympathetic, and expertly renders Ida’s self-destructive infatuation. And her adolescent ego is almost up to movie star standards. “Ida expected something to come from meeting Errol Flynn. She knew she was beautiful. How could she not know? All her life people had responded to her looks.”