Another new author for me this year – and an excellent one at that. ‘Death in the East’ is a classic example of a good detective fiction. This book, to me, was like a combination of Christie and Conan Doyle – a magic combination. However, this is also a book that takes a good look at moral issues surronding the British control of India.
A classic locked room mystery – well, two actually – came to the attention of our hero Wydenham. One from his past, which he has struggled to make peace with, and one now – which really does seem impossible.
All of this takes place as Wydenham reflects on his position and the position of Britain in India (as wel as the relationship of other groups with Britain). Mukherjee himself says that this a theme that was required and, sadly, reflects some of the concerns that are part of all of our cultures.
This books is beautifully written and fully engaging. A real page-turner, which is the best thing about a crime fiction novel. There is a great collection of characters who make for a wonderful addition to the plot. Also, it is actually the fourth book in a series, but it works wonderfully as a standalone book. Nothing is lost at all from not having read the other books. Although, this does mean that there is a whole collection of books to added to the wishlist…
A little update – I was lucky enough to have the chance to ask the fantastic author Abir Mukherjee a question about his work. I wanted to find out why he chose crime fiction as his genre of choice:
I started writing basically to scratch an itch. When I was growing up, we were never taught about British colonial history in school. All we received was a rose tinted version of our history which emphasised British greatness and glossed over all of the terrible things done in the name of Empire. I learned from my parents, that there was another side to this history, and I set out to research it and make it more accessible to others. One of the things I learned though, was that the history of the British in India is a difficult subject for many. People don’t want to be told that the achievements of their grandparents and great grandparents might hide a much blacker truth. Therefore I decided that my message needed to be couched within ripping, page-turning stories, ideally told by a narrator whom readers would find appealing. Crime fiction was a natural choice of genre for me. I grew up in the tradition of Tartan Noir, pioneered by the great William McIllvaney and heroes of mine such as Val McDermid and Ian Rankin, where the crime novel was used as a vehicle to examine and comment on social issues. The detective is a great person to highlight these issues as he or she has access to all levels of society, from princes to paupers, and so I decided to make my narrator an ex copper from London who finds himself in Calcutta because he’s nowhere else to go.
This is a fantastic response as I think these great influences are clear as Abir has created his own individual works.
I was lucky enough to be gifted this novel as part of a blogtour. The paperback is published this week – so make sure you grab a copy.