b2s pick: A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee


A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee (Vintage, 2018)

Agent: Sam Copeland, Rogers Coleridge & White

Summary: India, 1920. Captain Wyndham and Sergeant Banerjee of the Calcutta Police Force investigate the dramatic assassination of a Maharajah’s son. The fabulously wealthy kingdom of Sambalpore is home to tigers, elephants, diamond mines and the beautiful Palace of the Sun. But when the heir to the throne is assassinated in the presence of Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant ‘Surrender-Not’ Banerjee, they discover a kingdom riven with suppressed conflict. Prince Adhir was a moderniser whose attitudes – and romantic relationship – may have upset the more religious elements of his country, while his brother – now in line to the throne – appears to be a feckless playboy. As Wyndham and Banerjee desperately try to unravel the mystery behind the assassination, they become entangled in a dangerous world where those in power live by their own rules and those who cross their paths pay with their lives. They must find a murderer before the murderer finds them…

Notes: Mukherjee is able to represent the period such detail, during the tumultuous era of the rule of British rule in India. He gives the sense imparity that pervades both sides of society, and the human melting pot of poverty in Calcutta, and the ostentatious wealth of Sambalpur, from diamond mining. The visuals have such a level of grandeur with tiger hunts, fancy cars, eunuchs, myriad wives, and concubines, that provides the backdrop of a crime filled with jealousies, plots, and murder in abundance.

The book finds Capt. Sam Wyndham, a former Scotland Yard officer, and his astute partner, Sgt. “Surrender-Not” Banerjee of the Bengal Police, transporting Crown Prince Adhir Singh Sai, of the small kingdom of Sambalpur, back to the prince’s Calcutta hotel after a conference. The royal, who attended boarding school with Surrender-Not, wants his advice about notes that were left for him in his rooms. But before he can discuss their contents, a religious procession forces their car to take a detour, placing them in the path of an assassin who fatally shoots the prince. Sam and Surrender-Not’s failure to apprehend the killer only makes things worse, and, though they eventually track the man down, he takes his own life, leaving the investigators still in the dark about his motives. The road to the truth takes them to Sambalpur, a hive of intrigue and suspects. This successful evocation of the Raj in the service of a brilliant whodunit,

It is wonderfully plotted and paced, with just the right balance of action, description, n and dialogue, steeped in a amazing variety of Indian culture and history, and seasoned with colourful characters and a dash of romance.


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