History Mysteries: Diamond Jack by Mark Greenwood (Puffin Books) PB RRP $12.99 ISBN 9780143309260
Reviewed by Dianne Bates
This is one of a series of books for children which investigate Australia’s extraordinary past with history mysteries. Other books in the series include The Last Tiger, Lasseter’s Gold and The Lost Explorer, all written by Greenwood who describes himself as ‘a history hunter.’
This book, Diamond Jack, began when Greenwood saw a wartime photo of five men and a bullet-riddled aircraft. One of the men, wearing a stained singlet, was known as ‘Diamond Jack’ – actual name Jack Palmer. Investigating, Greenwood discovered that the men had been sent on a mission to locate a mysterious parcel.
However, Diamond Jack’s story in this book begins in 1942 in Broome, evacuated after the Japanese attack. Jack, master of an old pearling lugger, was a beachcomber along the Kimberley coast. Setting off with two Aborigines in his boat, he came across a plane which had been shot down at Carnot Bay. There was no sign of any survivors but inside the plane, the beachcomber found a wallet stuffed with thousands of diamonds.
Earlier that month a Dakota aircraft, piloted by a Dutchman, Captain Smirnoff, had left the Indonesian Bandung airport, heading for Broome on a desperate midnight escape, taking refuges to safety. With Broome emptied of people, Smirnoff flew away but was soon attacked by a Japanese fighter jet. His plane finished up descending and landing on the beach. Some of its occupants died, some went for help.
The mystery surrounding the crash was the missing diamonds worth, in today’s figures, over 25 million dollars. Jack Palmer eventually handed them in to the authorities, but not all of them: thousands were unaccounted for. It would appear Jack gave many of them away and might even have kept some for himself (in his old age he was mysteriously wealthy.) In a court case, outlined in this book, Diamond Jack was found not guilty of theft. What happened to the rest of the diamonds is not known to this day.
Of particular appeal in this book is a series of (mostly) fuzzy photographs of real-life people, such as Palmer loading supplies on the wharf at Broome, the army investigation team at the crash site in April 1942 and Captain Smirnoff. The story is simply written with facts intermingled with fiction to give an engrossing tale. At the end of the book is a timeline of events for the history buff, ending in Diamond Jack’s death in 1958. The author has also provided a list of websites, online newspaper articles and book references.
It’s a shame that the publisher did not print the book on better quality paper. But young readers aged 8 to 12 years are not likely to be too fussed about this.