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Book Author: Barbara Cleverly

THE LAST KASHMIRI ROSE by Barbara Cleverly: Book Review

The Last Kashmiri Rose is a terrific mix of multiple murders, sexual tension, and exotic atmosphere.   It’s a cozy read that holds your interest to the end.

It’s 1922, four years after the end of the Great War, and Commander Joseph Sandilands of Scotland Yard is on his way home from India.  He’d been assigned to Calcutta for six months to help the Bengal Police and is more than anxious to return to London.  But on the day before he is to leave, a formal request comes to him from the acting governor of Bengal to come to his office at once.

The governor’s niece, Nancy Drummond, is there waiting for Joe.  She brings photographs of the bloody corpse of her close friend, Peggy Somersham, who was found a week earlier in her bath with her wrists cut.  Nancy insists that Peggy was happy in India, happy in her new marriage, and would have had no reason to kill herself.  Nancy, who had been a nurse during the War, thinks it would have been nearly impossible for Peggy to have cut her own wrists the way they were cut.

Even stranger, according to Nancy, is that in addition to Peggy, four other officers’ wives in the Greys regiment have died in various types of accidents over a period of years, each during the month of March.  One was killed in a fire, one thrown from a horse, one bitten by a snake, one drowned while crossing a river in a boat, and now Peggy has been found dead.  Those are too many bodies for Nancy to believe that they all were accidents, and she wants Joe Sandilands to investigate before he returns home.

The area’s police superintendent clearly believes Peggy’s death was a suicide, and he’s obviously annoyed that Joe has been called in.  He’s not eager to offer much help, but he does assign an Indian officer, Naurung Singh, to assist.  That’s as far as he’ll go because he believes that simply telling the other officers’ wives “not to worry their pretty little heads” about this case is all the attention it deserves.

But Naurung agrees with Nancy that the deaths of these five women are not accidents, and Joe starts looking into the case.  And it doesn’t hurt that his interest in the charming, vivacious Nancy Drummond, wife of the Collector of Panikhat (a title that meant administrator and revenue officer in the former British Civil Service) is returned.

Pre-independent India is a fascinating place.  The Last Kashmiri Rose takes us to a place that no longer exists and will never exist again.  The British were the rulers, the natives the servants.  The army officers and civil servants and their families lived an almost fairy tale life.  The men paraded daily in their uniforms, the women visited each other and did small charitable deeds for the villagers while their food was prepared and served, their clothing washed and ironed, their children looked after, and their household details taken care of without their noticing.  Whether you think this was good or bad might depend on whether you envision yourself as a British civil servant or an Indian house servant.

Regardless of one’s opinion, the novel makes this life alive again.  The Last Kashmiri Rose is the first in the Joe Sandilands series; there are nine others.  But the first novel is a great place to start.

You can read more about Barbara Cleverly at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at this web site.