Brought up by his grandparents, Chauncey Knuckle has done well for a country boy whose mother died at his birth and whose father is mostly absent. He has won a place at a prestigious college for boys in Montego Bay, and his juvenile writing has won him prizes and some praise. But at the point when he arrives at university, he can only wonder what kind of a person he has become.
He has messed up a promising relationship with his girlfriend and discovered in himself a shameful propensity for sexual violence. He has witnessed his closest friend, Tristan, shot dead by the police and wonders about his role in Tristan’s downfall. Why did he fail to expose respected elder, Deacon Mac, for abusing Tristan when they were boys? Was he, too, infected by his school’s virulent homophobia in his attitude to his friend’s emerging gay sexuality?
The novel’s picture of Jamaica is an uncomfortable one. The college Chauncey enters is an institution still infected with the hangovers of colonialism, that offers a training in elitism, misogyny and homophobia, with secret societies, ritual brothel visits and the enforcement of a twisted morality.
Written with raw energy, warm humour and a satirical edge, and the ability to make a range of characters live and breathe, Thompson presents both Chauncey the experiencer and Chauncey the writer. In this he makes of the tradition of the coming-of age novel something both bold and new. No one who reads Death Register will be surprised by the Jamaican government’s recent declaration of a state of emergency in Montego Bay.