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A NECESSARY EVIL by Abir Mukherjee: Book Review

In 1920 India, everything is political.  The British, still rulers of “the jewel in the crown,” were desperate to keep this country, incredibly rich in spices, cotton, and cheap labor, to say nothing of its geographical location, valuable for trading.  In order to do so, they were willing to pretend that the over five hundred princes in the country were still in charge of their mini-kingdoms; the Indian princes joined in this deceit so that they could maintain nominal control of the vast areas that had been in their families for uncounted years.

Twenty of these princes are meeting with the Viceroy, and Captain Sam Wyndham and his assistant, Sergeant “Surrender-not” Banerjee, are there as well.  Crown Prince Adhir Singh Sai had gone to school in England with Surrender-not, and when the prince sees his former schoolmate in the crowd, he invites the detectives back to his hotel to discuss a troubling matter.

His Highness is opposed to what the British are calling the Chamber of Princes.  Adhir tells Sam and Banerjee that most of his fellow rulers are in favor of the British idea, being content with “a few fine words, fancy titles, and scraps from your table.”  Despite the fact that his father, the Maharaja of Sambalpore, wants to join the group, the prince has made his opposition to the plan well known.

Adhir is probably only months away from ascending the throne, given that the Maharaja is very ill, so his stubbornness and recalcitrance in resisting the Chamber have earned him enemies in the government and in his own family as well.  Is there a connection between his opposition and the two anonymous notes that he found in his private chambers?

The prince wants to discuss this issue, so he, Sam, and Surrender-not get into His Highness’s silver-topped Rolls Royce to drive to Adhir’s hotel suite to talk about it.  But as they approach the hotel, a man in the robes of a Hindu priest steps out in front of the Rolls, so suddenly that the chauffeur is barely able to stop.  The car lurches to a halt, the driver opening the door to see if the priest has been injured.  Suddenly the priest pulls a gun from inside his robes, shoots through the car’s windscreen, and the prince dies instantly, two bullets lodged in his chest.

Sam Wyndham had left London a year earlier, after a series of traumatic events, and is working hard to adjust to his new home in Calcutta.  But his life here is proving just as difficult as the one he left behind.  He is only really comfortable in his relationship with his sergeant which, given the inherent inequality of the races in India, may have reached an unbreakable barrier.  Added to the mix is his interest in Annie Grant, an Anglo-Indian woman who, for the second time, has become involved in one of Sam’s cases.

Like its predecessor, A Necessary Evil is a rich description of India nearly a century ago, showcasing the enormous disparity between the royalty and the underclass, the racial and the political issues, and the politics that are never far from its surface.  This novel is an outstanding follow-up to Abir Mukherjee’s equally brilliant A Rising Man, which I reviewed earlier this year.

You can read more about Abir Mukherjee at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.