Monday, May 27, 2019

Smoke and Ashes by Abir Mukherjee


First Line: It's not unusual to find a corpse in a funeral parlour.

Feeding a drug addiction he's had since his service during World War I, Captain Sam Wyndham is in an opium den when it's raided by police. In a drug-addled haze, he stumbles across a dead body while making his escape. The very next morning, he's summoned to the scene of a murder and sees the same gruesome, ritualistic injuries as the ones on the body of the night before. There's a deranged killer on the loose, but Sam can't say anything about the body in the opium den because it could cost him his career. He's definitely going to need the help of his quick-witted Sergeant Surrender-Not Banerjee to solve the murders before someone else dies.

I have to be honest and say that it took me a long time to get into Smoke and Ashes, and it's got everything to do with me and nothing to do with the book because I really enjoy this series. The book starts out with Wyndham on a bender, and I have very little patience for fictional characters addicted to alcohol or drugs. Once I'd reminded myself over and over again that Mukherjee's A Necessary Evil made my Best Reads List of 2018, I picked the book up again and began to read. I'm glad I did.

Wyndham is no fool. He realizes that--with that first body he stumbled across in the opium den and the subsequent police raid-- he's been set up. Someone knows of his addiction, and that someone is using it against him. Wyndham gets himself together to wean himself off the drugs. Once he started avoiding opium dens, my enjoyment of the story increased, and so did the pace of the book.

The mystery and the characters are so strong, but I carried away two major things from reading Smoke and Ashes. One, Mukherjee is wonderful at depicting how unsettled India was in the 1920s-- and how good the British Raj was at making decisions that kept the Indians riled up. They brought about their own doom. The second thing that really impressed itself upon me was what an uncomfortable position Wyndham's Indian sergeant is in. No one in his family wanted him to join the Raj's police force, and many family members shun him. But Surrender-Not is as stubborn as the British mispronunciation of his given name. He is good at his job. He believes in his job. He also believes India should be free from British rule. Like I said, his position is not an easy one.

If you enjoy historical mysteries with strong stories, strong characters, and a setting so vivid that you're drawn right into the thick of things, you can't go wrong with Abir Mukherjee's Wyndham and Banerjee series. I also find that these books make excellent companion pieces to Sujata Massey's Perveen Mistry historical series that take place during the same time frame, so keep those in mind, too!


Smoke and Ashes by Abir Mukherjee
ISBN:  9781911215158
Harvill Secker © 2018
Paperback, 352 pages

Historical Mystery, #3 Captain Sam Wyndham mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Book Depository.


 

16 comments:

  1. This really is an excellent series, isn't it, Cathy? I think Mukherjee does, indeed, do an excellent job of evoking the India of the times, and that's part of what drew me in in the first place. Sam Wyndham is an interesting character, too, which is always a plus for me. Glad you enjoyed this.

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    1. You and I are both drawn to settings, aren't we? :-)

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  2. I'm not sure about this. I love reading a woman's point of view on India in the early 1920s when the independent movement is beginning. So don't know if I'd like this from the viewpoint of a male writer and protagonist.

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    1. Wyndham isn't your usual stiff-upper-lip British male character. His viewpoint often runs counter to the status quo, and Mukherjee is an excellent writer. But I do know what you mean-- I love the Perveen Mistry books, too, and that female viewpoint has a lot to do with it.

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  3. Not the usual Britisher in the Raj era this Whyndham I think.
    New series for me. Thanks for the review.

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  4. Oh my gosh. There goes the TBR list again. Mina, Atkinson, etc.

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  5. Sorry, meant to put that comment in the new books' post comments.

    Anyway, I so love the feminism in the 1920s in Indian perspective. I do wonder what educated women thought then and those who could move ahead and break boundaries. Of course poor, peasant and urban working women were stuck. And the caste system did not help them.

    Very interesting as Perveen Mistry points out, the Zoroastrians do not have a caste system, although their divorce rules were not good. Oh, what we learn reading.

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    1. That's why I will never ever stop. I love to learn.

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  6. Yes, absolutely. I agree. What I learn from reading fiction, including mysteries, and blogs is great. Want to learn something new every day and I do.
    And I end up looking at maps, as I did with The Satapur Moonstone, books set in Scotland, including the Hebrides, England, Italy, etc. And also read about all kinds of things raised in the books.

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    1. That's one reason why I track my reading on an online map. I often find myself zooming in to check out various areas, etc.

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  7. Yes. I loved reading Val McDermid's A Darger Domain because I was looking up the Fjord of Firth and the shore and the caves along it on the north side. It is gorgeous. And one can take a virtual tour of those caves, inhabited for years.

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  8. Errata: It's the Firth of Forth which goes into the North Sea and many rivers feed into it.

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    1. I've seen it and crossed it a couple of times.

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Thank you for taking the time to make a comment. I really appreciate it!