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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

A Study In Maroon

A Rising Man - Abir Mukherjee

Abir Mukherjee's debut crime novel, set in Calcutta in 1919, is instantly readable, wonderfully witty and very sharply observed. He's particularly good at setting, summoning up a vivid, if not-entirely respectful portrait of colonial India e.g.


"It was built in the style we like to call colonial neo-classic – all columns and cornices and shuttered windows. And it was painted maroon. If the Raj has a colour, it's maroon. Most government buildings, from police stations to post offices, are painted maroon. I expect there's a fat industrialist somewhere, Manchester or Birmingham probably, who got rich off the contract to produce a sea of maroon paint for all the buildings of the Raj."


Not long after his arrival in Calcutta, the protagonist, Captain Sam Wyndham of the Imperial Police Force, is confronted with a serious problem: the body of a sahib, dressed in black tie and tuxedo has turned up in the wrong part of town. Is this the beginning of an armed insurrection or was the victim part of something much more complicated? The investigation will see Sam nearly killed on more than one occasion as he struggles to uncover corruption at the very heart of British India.


With a jaundiced world-view as a result of four years in the trenches of World War One, a ruined marriage and a refusal to look the other way when his instinct tells him something is not right, Sam Wyndham  has all the characteristics of a hard-boiled detective and A Rising Man looks set to be the start of a highly successful series.


One tiny thing that marred it for me. An Englishman in 1919 would not have said, "I was sat" or "We were stood" unless he came from Yorkshire. Nor would he talk about protesting something. He would have said "protesting against".  Get on the case, editor!