Publication Date: 19th October 2021
Publisher: Penguin Random House SEA
Page Length: 304 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
What would you risk to avoid obscurity?
Aspiring journalist Jim Lloyd jeopardises his future in ways he never could have imagined. He risks his wealthy father’s wrath to ride the coat-tails of Captain Francis Light, an adventurer governing the East India Company’s new trading settlement on Penang. Once arrived on the island, Jim—as Light’s assistant—hopes that chronicling his employer’s achievements will propel them both to enduring fame. But the naïve young man soon discovers that years of deception and double-dealing have strained relations between Light and Penang’s legal owner, Sultan Abdullah of Queda, almost to the point of war. Tensions mount: Pirate activity escalates, traders complain about Light’s monopolies, and inhabitants threaten to flee, fearing a battle the fledgling settlement cannot hope to win against the Malays. Jim realises that a shared obsession with renown has brought him and Light perilously close to infamy: a fate the younger man, at least, fears more than death. Yet Jim will not leave Penang because of his dedication to Light’s young son, William, and his perplexing attraction to a mercurial Dutchman. He must stay and confront his own misguided ambitions as well as help save the legacy of a man he has come to despise.
Inspired by true events, Lies That Blind is a story featuring historical character Francis Light (1740-1794) who, in an effort to defy his mortality, was seemingly willing to put the lives and livelihoods of a thousand souls on Penang at risk.
(Protagonist, Jim Lloyd, imprisoned in the fort for his own safety, has just had a major argument with his employer’s heavily pregnant wife, Martinha, about the forthcoming threat to the island and its inhabitants, caused by her husband.)
I kept out of everyone’s way for the next two days. By Sunday, I had calmed down enough and wanted to apologise to Light for distressing his wife. As I ventured passed the bankshall I heard raised voices inside. Standing close to the door, but far enough away so that no one inside could see me, I could make out Light, James Scott, Captains Glass and Hamilton, and Lieutenants Raban and Mylne. All of them jacketless with rolled up shirtsleeves.
Light was waving a piece of parchment above his head. “This letter from the native chiefs is nothing short of a declaration of war, despite the flowery language. ‘Our friend’, indeed!”
Scott removed the document from Light’s shaking hand and, scanning it, began to read aloud in a manner that only exaggerated the Malay habit of writing extremely long, barely punctuated sentences: “Likewise if our friend will not come with us and do homage to the King, the King is not content that our friend should remain any longer on Poolo Pinang therefore our friend will get away about his business quietly for Poolo Pinang is the property of the King of Queda from time immemorial moreover if our friend attempts to stay by force God who knows all things will place the evil upon his head, we are free from blame.”
“How much is he asking for now?” inquired John Glass.
Scott answered, Light having already sunk into his chair staring off into nowhere. “Five thousand dollars and an agreement to pay ten thousand per annum for the years that have passed.”
“It cannot be done,” murmured Light. “All the specie on this island has been exhausted since the native merchants would not visit us while we were under threat of attack. I have even had to pay the military men from sales of East India Company opium.”
“Something else Bengal won’t be happy about,” added Scott.
The room remained hushed until John Glass piped up again. “So, gentlemen, what is to be done?”
“Send over more opium,” answered Light wearily.
I became aware of a pain in one of my palms where I had been pressing my fingernails too deep into my skin. Good God man, I wanted to shout, learn a lesson; that will only delay the inevitable.
I glanced over at Robert Hamilton who was shifting from foot to foot. “I think we should prepare ourselves for war,” he said. “We have a few days at least to get our men ready. The fort can be strengthened if we work on the bulwarks and use the design to our advantage. I suggest supplementing the cannons on the easterly walls and—”
“There are no spare guns to place along the sea-coast,” Captain Glass interrupted.
“But you could purchase three nine pounder iron guns and borrow four six pounders from Captain Billamore,” said Scott to Light.
“We can face this enemy on our turf and win,” declared Hamilton, sounding as excited as a child told to expect a special birthday present.
“No!” The word was out of my mouth before I could stop it. I stepped out of the shadows into the room of military men.
“What the hell do you want?” Light called across the room when he saw me.
“To save this island and your legacy, Captain Light,” I answered, strangely becalmed. “It is madness to allow an armada of at least two hundred and fifty armed vessels and ten thousand men or more to land on our shores. You have a garrison of four hundred. This fort is crumbling around us. A few choice shots and it will be shattered by cannon fire and all your guns with it. You must take the fight to them.”
Hamilton, who apparently had not noticed how much closer I had moved towards him, laughed uproariously. “What kind of madcap military manoeuvre is that? And who are you to suggest—”
With the stealth I had been practising for weeks I now stood behind him, the crook of my arm pressing into his throat, but not too tightly.
“You think that is enough to overpower me?” he scoffed, looking incredulously at men he believed were his friends.
“Certainly not,” I replied, blood pumping. When he saw the keris I held in my other hand he appeared as transfixed as a bird frozen in place by an advancing cobra. I whispered in Hamilton’s ear. “I might first cut out your liver,” I said, prodding the dagger’s tip into his abdomen and watched as a speck of blood stained his otherwise spotless shirt. With lightning speed, I shifted the point to the back of his neck. “Or cut here, which I assure you means you will never need those fancy boots again.” With a final flourish I waved the deadly weapon in front of his face, almost nipping the tip of his nose. “The beauty of a curved and wavy blade is that it is not the dagger going in that causes most damage, but what happens to the internal organs when the attacker draws it out.”
“Enough!” shouted Light. “Leave Hamilton be.”
With a gentle push that sent the terrified man flying, I heard sniggers. In soundless unison the other men edged away from the former schoolyard bully. I had surmised correctly that Hamilton was not popular, and I had now earned the others’ respect. I could barely keep the smirk off my face.
I strode next to the superintendent and addressed the gathering. “Gentlemen, please hear me out. I assure you my suggestion has considerable historical precedent in situations where one army is vastly outnumbered by its foe.”
Elizabeth Smith Alexander was born in St. Andrews, Scotland in 1954, although her family moved to England a few years later. Her earliest memories include producing a newspaper with the John Bull printing set she was given one Christmas. She wrote and directed her first play, Osiris, at age 16, performed to an audience of parents, teachers, and pupils by the Lower Fifth Drama Society at her school in Bolton, Lancashire. Early on in her writing career, Liz wrote several short stories featuring ‘The Dover Street Sleuth’, Dixon Hawke for a D.C. Thomson newspaper in Scotland. Several of her (undoubtedly cringe-worthy) teenage poems were published in An Anthology of Verse.
Liz combined several decades as a freelance journalist writing for UK magazines and newspapers ranging from British Airway’s Business Life and the Daily Mail, to Marie Claire and Supply Chain Management magazine, with a brief stint as a presenter/reporter for various radio stations and television channels, including the BBC. In 2001 she moved to the United States where she earned her master’s degree and Ph.D. in educational psychology from The University of Texas at Austin.
She has written and co-authored 17 internationally published, award-winning non-fiction books that have been translated into more than 20 languages.
In 2017, Liz relocated to Malaysia. She lives in Tanjung Bungah, Pulau Pinang where she was inspired to embark on one of the few forms of writing left for her to tackle: the novel.