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
Pegasus Books © 2018
eBook, 381 pages
Historical Mystery, #2 Capt. Sam Wyndham mystery
Source: Net Galley