I heard about this book on an episode of Two Crime Writers and a Microphone (a UK-based podcast that focuses on crime fiction) and was intrigued enough to track down a copy. The tale of a royal murder in 1920’s India and the difficult investigation that results well and truly lived up to my expectations for a smart, entertaining read.
The event that sparks the novel’s action is the assassination of Prince Adhir, heir to the kingdom of Sambalpore. He happens to be in Calcutta and in the presence of police Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant ‘Surrendernot’ Banergee when he is killed which is how our heroes come to be force their way into the investigation into his death despite the reality that neither the pair’s superiors nor the people or authorities in Sambalpore want them involved.
There’s a lot of historical crime fiction around but the setting in India at the time when the British Raj was declining offers something genuinely different to all the rest and Mukherjee has depicted it evocatively and intelligently. The interplay between the British and local people is a key ingredient of the setting and without awkward exposition or flagrantly implausible modern sensibilities this aspect of the book is handled particularly well. The general physical and social attributes of the location are also well drawn, providing that sense of virtual travel that the best such fiction does.
I enjoyed meeting the two main characters who are cleverly given a kind of equality that might not have been available to them in real life. Although he is subordinate to Wyndham in terms of organisational structure the Sergeant has an equal amount of agency and purpose in the story and does not merely act as the traditional sidekick. The fact that he doesn’t have an opium addiction, whereas Wyndham does, made Sergeant Banerjee a favourite for me as I’m a bit tired of addicted detectives. I get that they are probably realistic – who wouldn’t need some kind of salve when confronted with an endless stream of human misery in the way they are – but if I wanted that kind of realism I’d read more true crime. This probably makes me the worst kind of reader as I claim to enjoy books with an authentic feel but my idiosyncrasies can’t be helped. There is an array of compelling supporting characters in the book, many of them women who display a strength and independence I found appealing.
There is an earlier novel in this series which I haven’t read but I did not feel at a disadvantage for that. The author has provided enough explanation of previous events for me to grasp what’s going on, but not too much that I would feel unable to go back and read that first book (which I have every intention of doing). A NECESSARY EVIL has elements of humour, romance and politics in addition to the intriguing, suspense-filled mystery at its heart. It is a top read.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Publisher Harvill Secker, 2017
Length 374 pages
Book Series #2 in the Sam Wyndham series
Source of review copy I bought it