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THE SHADOWS OF MEN by Abir Mukherjee: Book Review

Once again Abir Mukherjee takes us to 1920s India.  Ethnic tensions are escalating between the Hindus and Muslims, between the different castes, between those with property and those without.

Mahatma Gandhi has begun the peaceful non-cooperation movement, a tactic designed to persuade England to leave India, but it hasn’t been successful.  At the time The Shadows of Men takes place, Gandhi has been sentenced to six years in jail for sedition.  So just where does that leave the various groups who are fighting each other as well as the British?

In Calcutta, gang wars are breaking out all over the city.  Surendranath Banerjee, an Indian educated at the University of Cambridge, is now a sergeant on the Calcutta police force, and he has been asked by Lord Taggart, the police commissioner, to find out what’s behind the latest murders.  Taggart tells Suren that a leading Muslim politician, Gulmohamed, is in Calcutta and is looking to stir up trouble with the Hindus.  And, the commissioner tells him, “No need to inform Captain Wyndham of any of this.”

While Suren is following Gulmohamed, Sam Wyndham is investigating the killing of Uddam Singh’s older son.  Sam and Suren arrest Singh’s younger son, Vinay, who is a member of his father’s gang, on a rather flimsy pretext, hoping that the arrest will pressure the father to call off his war against the Muslims.  There is, in fact, a brief halt in the fighting, and then Sam finds out that Suren has been arrested and charged with murdering Gulmohamed.

This is the fifth book in the Sam Wyndham/Suren Banerjee series, and each one takes us more deeply into the troubled India of the 1920s.  This is a period of direct British control over the Indian subcontinent that lasted from 1858 until independence and the partition of the country into the Dominion of India and the Dominion of Pakistan in 1947.  In addition to the changes in India we witness throughout the series, we also see Suren’s growth and confidence as a police officer and as an individual.  It’s heartwarming for readers who have read this series from the beginning to view these changes, but it’s also discouraging to see how much further both the man and his country have to go.

Abir Mukherjee’s fifth mystery continues his tradition of excellence.  His writing makes the reader feel as if she/he is actually in India, witnessing the events that are taking place and understanding the viewpoints of the different groups as well.  Sam Wyndham and Surendranath Banerjee are two of the finest literary creations I’ve come across in recent years.

You can read more about the author 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 OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

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