During the several years B.R. Bentley spent living and working in Bermuda for a Canadian company, he had plenty of opportunity to take in the sights that traditionally draw tourists to the island nation in the North Atlantic Ocean.
But while some of the top souvenirs from Bermuda include sea glass, Irish linen towels and pink sand from the island’s south shore beaches, Bentley brought home something truly unique: the idea for his first novel.
Three years after publishing his debut effort, The Cross, the semi-retired Nanoose Bay executive has just published a follow-up effort, The Bermuda Key.
Both books, published by Friesen Press of Victoria, are fictionalized interpretations of the very real Tucker Cross saga. The emerald-studded gold cross, discovered by Bermuda diver Teddy Tucker in the wreckage of a Spanish ship that sunk in 1594, was stolen from the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute and replaced by a forgery sometime before 1985.
“It was investigated by local police, by Scotland Yard, the FBI, Interpol,” said Bentley. “They’ve never found it.
“It fascinated me that they lost this cross. I mean, it was in a museum. In a glass case. I thought, ‘This would make a great book.”
Bentley is the pseudonym of a financial consultant and former corporate VP in finance who splits his time between Nanoose Bay and Vancouver’s North Shore. He grew up a voracious reader, and wrote “lots of poetry” during the years he grew up in and attended school in his native South Africa.
But Bentley took a rather circuitous route back to storytelling, first studying science in university, then taking on a banking job shortly after arriving in Canada in his early 20s, in 1978. That job, in turn, led to a position in finance and law with a publicly traded company based in Vancouver.
“There was lots of business writing and press releases, but nothing like this,” he said with a nod to his two novels
“Life got in the way,” he added with a chuckle. “But once I stopped working 24/7, I decided to try writing a book.”
The intriguing story of the Tucker Cross — the Smithsonian has valued the artifact at $250 million, the single-most valuable object ever pulled from a shipwreck — gave him his opening.
Rather than tackle an historical, non-fiction account of the open-ended mystery, Bentley chose to create a fictional plot and cast of protagonists for The Cross while using the Bermuda setting and the same cross and shipwreck in a genre known as historical fiction.
“I love this kind of stuff,” he said. “If I had to read a book, that’s the kind of stuff I’d like.”
He researched the original Tucker Cross story using old books, newspaper articles and maps. The four years he spent living and working in Bermuda gave him insight into local features, landmarks and social customs, including the uniquely Bermudian slang of the island’s natives.
Already an avid diver and sailor, Bentley mixed authentic portrayals of salvage diving with characters from the Vatican and even, yes, finance and law in a religious conspiracy mystery. A review in The Cape Times compared it favourably to the work of Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown.
“That was surreal,” Bentley admits. “I mean, I know I can write. But there was a, maybe not fear factor, but an element of ‘What is this?’”
“In researching articles and history on this story, I took those threads and tied them into this story,” he said. “And when I got to the end of The Cross, I left some of those threads hanging.”
Bentley said that many readers, after reading The Cross, emailed him to ask what happened to some of the characters he had created for the debut. Frankly, he admits, he was somewhat interested himself.
“It was very interesting to find that somewhere in the process, the characters started writing themselves,” he said. “It was a bit spooky. When you think you’re going one way, your characters take off, and you just follow.”
The Bermuda Key picks up where The Cross left off in a seamless sequel that also reads as a stand-alone story. But while trilogies appear to be all the rage today in both books and movies, this is it for the story of the cross.
“At first, I was thinking maybe a trilogy,” Bentley admits. “But that’s it. I’m not going any further.”
Which is not to say he is retiring his pen. Bentley said he has already started on his next story, a corporate/political conspiracy set in B.C.
Meanwhile, fans of The Cross can follow the tale in The Bermuda Key, which was printed Dec. 18 and is available in print from FriesenPress, Amazon and Nook and in e-book form through Kobo, iTunes and GooglePlay. Links to each of those sites can be found at Bentley’s own website, www.brbentley.com.
The book is not currently available at local stores, though he did leave a copy of The Cross at the Nanoose Bay Library.
“It’s also in the library in Parksville and some other libraries,” he said. “Which is a delight for me, because I have no idea how it got there.”