Thursday, April 05, 2018

A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee

First Line: It's not often you see a man with a diamond in his beard.

India, 1920. Witness to the assassination of a Maharajah's son, Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant Banerjee of the Calcutta Police Force find the killer, but they also find evidence that suggests the plot against the heir may have begun at home in the kingdom he was to inherit. The two swiftly find themselves aboard the royal train heading for Sambalpore, home to tigers, elephants, diamond mines, and the ethereal Palace of the Sun.

It doesn't take them long to learn that the kingdom is filled with suppressed conflict. There are three vastly different heirs to the throne. A mere infant, a playboy, and the modernizer, who was assassinated. As Wyndham and Banerjee try to unravel the mystery, they find themselves entangled in a world where those in power live by their own rules-- and they may pay for their quest for truth and justice with their lives.

I enjoyed A Necessary Evil so much that, when I finished, I had no idea the book was almost four hundred pages long; that's how fast-moving the pace is. It also has a marvelous, twisty plot made even more so by the fact that a male investigator has no access to the zenana, the part of a Muslim or Hindu household reserved for women only.

The setting of this book is absolutely marvelous, as Sam Wyndham (late of the British Expeditionary Forces and Scotland Yard) moves from the bustling, mostly modern, city of Calcutta to a maharajah's kingdom. One minute he's being driven in a silver-plated Rolls Royce to dine with people whose clothing is fastened with diamond buttons, and the next he's participating in a tiger hunt followed by a dance where the host is an expert at the Turkey Trot. Sam is an interesting mix of modern and traditional. Fighting in the trenches during the First World War has knocked a lot of the old nonsense out of him, but not all. Living in India as the British Raj is winding down and being partnered with an Indian sergeant means Wyndham is always being faced with new attitudes.

The reader also learns all sorts of interesting things about the culture and politics of India during this time. With laws such as the Doctrine of Lapse, the British should never have been surprised when India insisted on regaining its freedom. (If an Indian ruler died without a direct heir, or if he was what the British termed incompetent, the government would seize control of his kingdom and all its assets.)

The biggest learning experience of all for Sam was finding out how to conduct an investigation when so many of the people he needed to question were in purdah-- females in seclusion. It was a world completely beyond his comprehension, and one that made the mystery more difficult for him to solve-- even though someone blatantly gave him the key to solving it.

I found A Necessary Evil to be a wonderful mystery and the perfect companion piece to Sujata Massey's The Widows of Malabar Hill. I'm also looking forward with a great deal of anticipation to Abir Mukherjee's next book.

A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee
eISBN: 9781681777283
Pegasus Books © 2018
eBook, 381 pages

Historical Mystery, #2 Capt. Sam Wyndham mystery
Rating: A+
Source: Net Galley



  1. I've been very much wanting to read this one, Cathy. You're now the third or so person I trust who's said how good it is. That does it! I must put it on my list.

  2. I've also seen some good reviews of this one. Need to put this series on the front burner rather than the back.

  3. Your review made me aware of this book and now I want to read it. I always read books in order but does one have to read the first book in this series to have a background of this book.

    1. No, you don't really need to read the first in this series. The author does a good job of filling in the background without going overboard.

  4. Well, I loved The Widows of Malabar Hill. For one reason, the protagonist is a brilliant young woman lawyer. And there are a few words thrown in here and there to let a reader know the writer (and lawyer) were for India's independence.

    I hope the writer here takes sides on this important issue.

    I may read this, although I avidly await Massey's next book in her series.

    1. Women do not take a backseat in this book either, although the focus is more on the burgeoning fight for the country's independence. The white male outsider's viewpoint is very well done here. As I said in the review, almost all the stupid old British traditions about government were knocked out of Sam by his participation in WWI-- but not all of them. His mind is open, however, and Sergeant Banerjee is there to help teach him about the real world of India.

  5. Oh, OK, so it's pro-India's independence. And women have a strong role. Sounds good.

    I wonder if I can suggest this to a friend whose family is from Mumbai and he would probably expect the political slant to be pro-independence.

    I'll add it to that ever-burgeoning and tipping over TBR list.


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