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The Murders Of Boysie Singh

Robber, arsonist, pirate, mass-murderer and vice and gambling king of Trinidad, Boysie Singh was a much reported celebrity in the 1940s and '50s. A pirate who dumped would-be migrants to the sharks, he was eventually hanged for just one crime, a murder he in fact may not have done, and for which no body was ever found. First published in 1962, Derek Bickerton's 'The Murders of Boysie Singh' remains as shocking, insightful and compelling as ever.

Derek Bickerton
Crime, Caribbean Modern Classics
Trinidad and Tobago
Date published
13 Jun 2019

The Murders of Boysie Singh, first published in 1962, is a classic for several reasons. It tells the true but almost unbelievable story of a Trinidadian badjohn who in the 1940s and 1950s was a much reported celebrity of the criminal and legal world. Believed to have committed scores of murders in his guise as a pirate who dumped would-be migrants from Trinidad to Venezuela overboard to the sharks, he was hanged for just one proven crime, a murder he in fact may not have done, and for which no body was found. The story that Derek Bickerton tells is a classic because it both focuses on themes that remain pertinent to Trinidadian culture and reminds that current alarms about crime and an escalating murder rate are very far from new. Bickerton recognises in Boysie Singh a particularly Trinidadian villain, one who for several decades evaded the law in part because of a popular ambivalence about crime. What was seen as “smartness” in challenging a deeply hierarchical colonial society was often admired, even if its victims were not from the elite. Like V.S. Naipaul’s Ganesh Ramsumair in The Mystic Masseur, Bickerton’s Boysie Singh was a shapeshifter who metamorphosed from rural small-time crook, pirate, saga-boy urban gangster, brothel-keeper and, when the law closed in, to an itinerant preacher who had found God. 

The Murders of Boysie Singh is also a classic because it is a thoughtful and carefully shaped work whose author, then a practicing journalist in Barbados, was well aware of his literary precursors in the shape of Henry Fielding’s great satiric novel The Life and Death of Jonathan Wild (1743). There are elements in the book that no doubt the older Derek Bickerton, who led a distinguished academic career in Hawaii, would have flinched at – but the political incorrectness of some of the views expressed goes along with a refreshing curiosity about Trinidadian society which is always, ultimately, sympathetic with the people rather than the elite.

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Derek Bickerton

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