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Book Author: Abir Mukherjee

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.

DEATH IN THE EAST by Abir Mukherjee: Book Review

Death in the East is another “jewel in the crown” in the English/Indian series featuring Sam Wyndham.  That phrase referred to India’s place in the former British Empire; it also means a jewel among many, and that’s how I mean it–it’s Abir Mukherjee’s fourth book featuring an English detective in 1920s India, and the third I’ve reviewed.

Sam left England immediately after the end of World War I, reeling from the deaths of his young wife, his half-brother, and his father.  Believing there was nothing left for him in his native country he emigrated to Calcutta, hoping for a new start.   His career as a police detective in India has been successful, but his personal life has not, and now his addiction to opium has come close to ruining him.

In desperation Sam goes to the northern Indian state of Assam, to a Hindu ashram that has been successful in treating drug and alcohol dependence.  It goes almost without saying that the cure appears to Sam to be worse than the addiction–shortly after his arrival he suffers from hallucinations, vomiting, unrelenting shivering, and an overwhelming desire for the drug–but he’s told by his fellow residents that the first day is the hardest.

He’s determined to stay the course come what may, and what comes is the death of another resident, someone with a strong superficial resemblance to Sam.  Was Le Corbeau’s death an accident or a murder?  If it was the latter, was Sam supposed to be the intended victim?

Death in the East flashes back to 1905, when Sam was a young constable and befriended a young woman who lived in London’s East End.  Bessie was murdered, and although a man was hanged for the crime, Sam always had doubts that the Jewish immigrant convicted of the murder was guilty.  Although he suspected the murderer was in fact the woman’s landlord, Jeremiah Caine, who had connections to London’s underworld, he had no proof, and the anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant emotions of the time made Israel Vogel a perfect target.

Now, half a world away from England, Wyndham sees the man he always suspected in Bessie’s death.  Caine had fled London while Sam was trying to persuade Scotland Yard to investigate him and was never seen again.  He has turned up in Assam using the name Ronald Carter and is the wealthiest and most important man in the area.

Death in the East is a fascinating read on several accounts.  Sam Wyndham is a wonderful protagonist, a man doing his best while beset with tragic memories.  The plot of the novel is intricate and intriguing, and it will have the reader trying to figure out the possible connection between a 1905 murder in London and a death in an Indian hill town more than twenty years later.  And last but not least is the compelling writing of Abir Mukherjee, himself an Englishman of Indian heritage, who makes both worlds come alive.

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.



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.


A RISING MAN by Abir Mukherjee: Book Review

Back when there really was a British Empire, India was “the jewel in the crown.”  Its incredible mineral riches, its variety of desirable goods such as cotton and spices, and its huge population of workers all made the subcontinent the most valuable part of Great Britain’s holdings.  But times change, and in 1919 things were changing in India more quickly than could be dealt with by the ruling class.

A Rising Man opens with the arrival in Calcutta, capital of the state of Bengal, of Captain Sam Wyndham.  He’s fresh from the Great War and from London’s Metropolitan Police Force.  Devastated by death and trauma–the death of his bride just three weeks after their wedding, the deaths of his half-brother and their father during the war, as well as the injury he suffered in France–Sam jumps at the opportunity he’s offered to join the police in Calcutta, about as far from England as he can get.

Barely has he arrived than he has his first murder case.  The body of an Englishman, dressed in evening clothes but with his throat slashed, is found in the city’s native section called Black Town, a place where no respectable British citizen would go.  Even worse, the corpse is in front of a brothel, making it clear that the case will have to be handled with the utmost care and sensitivity.

The body is that of Alexander MacAuley, a man of great importance in the Bengali government.  In fact, so important was MacAuley that there is a dispute over which department should take over the investigation–the Imperial Police Force or Military Intelligence–with Military Intelligence having more power.  So Sam and his two assistants, Digby and Banerjee, have only a very short time to solve the case before it’s taken from them.

In addition to the murder, Sam is dealing with another crime that may be related, although his superiors aren’t certain of that.  A mail train was stopped by a group of robbers, dacoits; a railway guard was killed but the safes on the train, usually filled with cash, were empty.  The whole set-up is strange, the train’s driver tells Sam:  it’s unusual for a train to be robbed this close to Calcutta, the guard’s murder seems pointless, and why didn’t the dacoits rob the first-class passengers if they were thwarted by the empty safes?

This novel is as rich as India itself was at the time it takes place.  There’s so much going on–the murder, the robbery, the daily buildup of tensions between the ruling British and the Indian natives, and the fight for power among the various government departments.  Added to this are Sam’s personal problems–his understandable depression about his wife’s untimely death, his increasing dependence on drugs to help control his physical and mental pain, and his newness to a culture so different from his own.

Abir Mukherjee’s debut novel is stunning in its complexity.  The plot and characters shine, and I was delighted to discover that the second book in the series, A Necessary Evil, was published earlier this year.  It’s a must read for me.

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.