Why did I love this book?
Mukherjee’s first chapter is a masterclass on how to open a mystery-thriller.
“It’s not unusual to find a corpse in a funeral parlor. It’s just rare for them to walk door under their own steam. It was a riddle worth savoring, but I didn’t have the time, seeing as I was running for my life.” This got my interest right away. I was in!
Mukherjee’s protagonist is in an opium den at the wrong time. Beautifully bookended, opium forms the personal struggles of this worthy protagonist. With quirky lines “take me to your organ grinder” and “we’re here to see Torquemada” I enjoyed this action-packed story, set against the backdrop of the 1920s Indian independence movement.
Protagonist Sam Wyndham is an English policeman who’s apolitical, and I enjoyed his comic-accurate cynical portrayal of both Indian proclivities and the British pretensions. But Indians are far more than backdrop, and form vibrant and compelling portraits in this book. The pace of this book is fabulous from start to finish. Descriptions of Calcutta could only come from one who’s been there. Come prepared for the grungy seedy Calcutta, and the grandeur of faded glory.
But how can an Englishman who does not speak Bengali interview suspects or witnesses? How could he know if they were lying? How could he navigate the city? These pose hurdles for this sleuth! Luckily his assistant is young Surendranath “Surrender-not” Bannerjee, a puny-bodied law graduate committed to law and order, even against his own family’s preferences! Best of all I enjoyed the rapport between Wyndham and Surrender-not Bannerjee who is one of the most delightful characters in the book.