This book is the second in the Wyndham-Banerjee series of crime novels set in British India. I chanced upon one of the 4 books and so I have not been reading these in order. Also, the library seems to have very few copies of each of the 4 books and so I couldn’t line them up properly. But that’s no issue because the books can be read standalone.
I must confess, I am now an Abir Mukherjee fan. First of all, the setting of the books is unique. Our lead DI Wyndham is of the Imperial Police force in Calcutta, the second-city of the British empire. His sidekick is local policeman Surendranath Banerjee, appropriated as ‘Surrender-Not’. Their combination is brilliant and nuanced, as Wyndham would be lost without Banerjee’s local knowledge. Second, in this book, we travel to Sambalpore in Orissa at the murder of its prince. As a Scottish-Bengali like Mukherjee himself, who grew up in Orissa, the references to local folklore and customs was too close for me (and I loved it)!
Third, every DI has a darker side; and Wyndham is no exception. As he battles wuth the trauma of his past, his need for love, and his addiction, many shades of his character are revealed. He reminds me of Perez from the Shetland series, and I really like his character. Finally, the cast is varied and interesting. There are Brits, princes, kings and eunuchs – and all of them have a very specific part to play in this novel to uncover the plot behind the Sambalpori prince’s murder. A fine book, a very enjoyable read.
In 2018, I saw Abir Mukherjee speak on a panel at the EdBookFest. As a Scottish-Bengali myself, I remember making a mental note to read his stuff. And I finally got round to it. This novel is the 3rd in the Wyndham series, but they can all be read as standalone books.
I thoroughly enjoyed this read. Set in 1920s Calcutta, this novel follows the sleuthing of Sam Wyndham, an officer of the Empire and his sidekick ‘Surrender-not’ Banerjee. While Wyndham battles an opium addiction, he gets embroiled in serial murders of a pattern. As India is poised on the brink of the Swadeshi movement, Wyndham and Banerjee must navigate political sensitivity and the machinations of the Raj to determine who the killer is.
The book is well researched to the point that a number of interesting plotpoints are woven into the story. There’s the opium trade, Subhash Chandra Bose’s rise in politics, the Christmas Day plot against the British – all of these make an appearance. But using these as hooks rather than the main basis of the story means that this is an easy read, perfect for the summer. The balance of detective thriller and historical fiction had me devouring this book in a matter of 2-3 days. I loved the interactions between the two protagonists that surpass cultural barriers, and also the description of the prime city of the Raj.
I will be reading the rest of the books in the series for sure (book 4 came out late last year). I can definitely say Mukherjee must have been wasted as an accountant because he’s clearly a crime writer. Highly recommend!