After my last post, moaning about historical… the next nominee for the MWA Edgar for Best Novel is Abir Mukherjee’s A Rising Man, set in 1919 Calcutta. The heat, grime, and colonial culture where the British rule, the natives serve, and those of mixed race are shunned by both, welcome Captain Sam Wyndham. A former Scotland Yard detective, Capt. Wyndham faces his first case – the murder of a British official, Alexander MacAuley. Found in a “dark, dead-end alley,” the body was mangled, throat cut, and a mysterious message in Bengali, on expensive paper, was forced into his mouth. “No more warnings,” it read. “English blood will run in the streets. Quit India!” Terrorists? the captain wonders. Or perhaps it was just supposed to look like terrorists?
Helping Captain Wyndham is Inspector Digby – surely much too well-qualified to report to an inexperienced man such as Wyndham – and Sergeant Surendranath Bannerjee, known as “Surrender-Not.” (My favorite character!) Also of service is the dead man’s secretary, the lovely Annie Grant. The prime suspect? Political activist Benoy Sen. It would suit all to find Sen guilty, and it’s soon made clear that Wyndham is expected to investigate only so far as it is necessary to deliver Sen, collect accolades, and let business be business in the corrupt corners of Calcutta.
Hampered by a hankering for opium, Wyndham’s still a good investigator and realizes that all is not as it seems. Fairly early on, I realized that this was going to be one of those “which one of these characters I already met is really the bad guy?” books. Was it the madam Mrs. Bose, whose upscale house of ill repute was near where MacAuley’s body was found? Perhaps the L-G, Wyndham’s boss? Mr. Buchan? The good reverend? Someone closer to home? And which of these were behind the botched train robbery? That’s where Mukherjee fooled me – there were two surprise bad guys!
Here’s what I found good about the book: nicely written, easy to read, some likable/interesting characters, pretty twisty plot with red herring. It read like an Agatha Christie, with an updated protagonist who showed a remarkable openness to diversity given the 1919 timeframe. Still, not really my cup of tea.
Comparison to Kathleen Kent’s The Dime? Tough. Very different books, both worth reading, neither of which do I think will take home the Edgar. I’m going to keep The Dime on top simply because I’m more likely to read book 2 in Kent’s series.
Literary Lunchbox Rankings: Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award, Best Novel