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‘Island Flames’ a hot seller

After selling out its initial two-year print run in less than three weeks, Island Flames second edition will go on sale early next year.

Jonathan Smith's book chronicles the story behind Bermuda's 1977 riots, which saw two tourists and a Bermudian hotel worker killed at The Fairmont Southampton fire and establishment-owned businesses badly damaged.

“Second printing is under way in China, and we expect the books here hopefully by the end of January,” Mr Smith told The Royal Gazette.

Two thousand copies were printed for the book's first edition, exceeding industry recommendations for the Island which suggest a top-end of 1,500 copies.

“I figured there would be a historical interest, but I didn't expect the copies to disappear in 20 days. People stop me almost every day in Hamilton and ask how they can get a copy of the book,” added the former Commissioner of Police and Progressive Labour Party senator, who works in the business sector.

Mr Smith believes that the subject has captured public attention as, until now, there has been “an absence of knowledge and research over that period in our history”.

The unrest, which ran from December 1 to 3, 1977, was ignited by the executions of two black Bermudian men, who had been convicted of politically-motivated murders and had ties to the black power movement.

This incident brought the Island's longstanding racial tensions to boiling point, resulting in a frenzy which required United States Marines, 250 British troops and more than 1,500 other police, regiment, reserves and firemen to quell.

“There was a lot of blame being apportioned at the time as to who really had the decision-making authority on the actual hangings,” said Mr Smith, who was a teenager when the riots took place.

“A number of things could have been done to prevent the executions. Parliament in Bermuda could have intervened and initiated an emergency debate and a vote on capital punishment.

“The governor, Sir Peter Ramsbotham, could have exercised his own prerogative and granted clemency, and the cabinet minister in the UK, Lord David Owen, could have exercised clemency.

“The British didn't tell Bermuda at the time that they had already intervened in two other territories, Hong Kong and Belize, to prevent executions, but they took a stand-off attitude towards Bermuda.”

Nicole Warren, general manager at Brown & Co, said that the department store had already started receiving pre-orders for the second edition of Island Flames.

“The book stoked a lot of interest for a lot of people — both those who were growing up at the time and those who had no idea about what took place,” she said.

“People were curious to find out whether it was really true or if it was a modern-day myth. It's probably the best and fastest-selling local launch we've ever done.”

Having spent two-and-a-half years researching and writing Island Flames, Mr Smith's next book is titled Black & Blue.

Scheduled for 2017, it will delve into policing in Bermuda from the 1970s to present day.

Selling out: Jonathan Smith recalls the riots of 1977 on Court Street in his new book, Island Flames (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published December 04, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated December 04, 2015 at 8:14 am)

‘Island Flames’ a hot seller

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