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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.