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Murder trial book deal for former Westcountry editor

A lunchtime chat about the famous wartime murder of Sir Harry Oakes in the Bahamas has led to a three-book deal for a former Westcountry newspaper editor.

John Marquis was challenged by the publisher to write a book about the case in just four months.

The result is Blood and Fire, due out next month and described by the publisher’s editor as an “exquisitely conceived” re-examination of what has been called the greatest murder mystery of the 20th century.

John, (right), who is managing editor of the Bahamas’ leading daily, The Tribune, wrote the book after publisher Michael Henry asked over lunch if he could produce 80,000 words on the Oakes case for his 2005 list.

Having been keenly interested in the case for 40 years, John met the challenge, using weekends to research and write what he calls “a fast-paced read with some new angles on an old case”.

Now the book is set for distribution in the Caribbean, North America and Europe, with an official launch planned in Nassau before Christmas.

John, a former editor of Packet Newspapers in Cornwall, said: “The whole thing started when a novelist friend and I were having lunch in Nassau with his publisher. The talk turned to the Oakes case. Obviously fascinated, Mike Henry suddenly threw out the challenge, and I accepted.”

Now he has a three-book deal, and is already half-way through a biography of Dr Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier, the dictator of Haiti between 1957 and 1971.

The murder of Sir Harry Oakes, then the empire’s richest man, in 1943, was such a great story that it knocked the world war itself off many front pages. It was particularly interesting because the Duke of Windsor was Governor of the Bahamas at the time and in charge of the investigation.

The book challenges the popular view that the Duke mismanaged the case and claims there is convincing circumstantial evidence to suggest he was involved in a major cover-up to protect his friends.

John has been a journalist for 45 years, having trained on the Northampton Chronicle and Echo in the early 1960s. He also spent two years at the Nottingham Evening Post before enjoying his first stint in the Bahamas in the late 1960s when he had spells as political reporter for both The Tribune and its morning rival, The Nassau Guardian.

He returned to Britain in 1969 as a sub-editor on Reuters World Desk in London, then spent seven years as London Sports Editor of Thomson Regional Newspapers, covering boxing worldwide for four mornings papers, fourteen evenings and the Sunday Sun at Newcastle.

Among Thomson titles were The Scotsman, Western Mail and the Press and Journal at Aberdeen. He was then assistant editor with the now defunct Evening Post-Echo at Hemel Hempstead before editing lifestyle, business and media magazines in the Midlands and Home Counties.

In 1986 he was appointed editor of Packet Newspapers in Falmouth and returned to The Tribune as managing editor in 1999, where he has overseen a 70 per cent circulation rise in seven years.

While with Thomsons, John was named Provincial Journalist of the Year in the IPC National Press Awards, forerunner of the British Press Awards, in 1974.