Friday, 31 March 2017

Book Review: A Very Pukka Murder by Arjun Raj Gaind


Book: A Very Pukka Murder

Author: Arjun Raj Gaind

Pages: 328

Read: The paperback pictured above

Read in: Over 2-3 days (total of 5 hours)

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Plot Summary: From the borders of icy Kashmir to the shark-infested shores of the Malabar Coast, Major William Russell, the English Resident of the small, princely state of Rajpore, is renowned as a straitlaced man of rigorous habit. When his valet knocks on his bedroom door the morning after the 1909 New Year's Ball and receives no response, he and the Resident's elderly secretary eventually task the English Commandant of Cavalry with breaking it down. The Resident is dead in his bed. 

His Highness Farzand-i-Khas-i-Daulat-i-Inglishia Mansur-i-Zaman Maharaja Sikander Singh, Light of Heaven, Sword of Justice, Shield of the Faithful, sole ruler of Rajpore, is slow to rise after the night of revelry. But news of the murder galvanizes him. The fabulously wealthy Maharaja, who perforce has surrendered much of his authority to the British, is a man of indolent habit although he keeps himself thoroughly fit. A lover of luxury cars and beautiful women, his deepest passion is for mysteries. He cannot resist an enigma, relishing a riddle and the rush of resolving it. 

Like August Dupin and Sherlock Holmes, Sikander wields careful and deliberate logic to crack puzzles that leave less intelligent men confounded. Here is such an opportunity, and well timed-for the Maharaja, resigned to another year of indolence, is almost fatally bored. Abandoning the lavish comforts of his ornate palace, Sikander orders his massive manservant Charan Singh into his Silver Ghost and speeds to the insular English settlement. 

Despite the objections of the local Magistrate and the Superintendent of Police, he works the crime scene and deduces that Resident was poisoned by a massive dose of strychnine. As a clock starts ticking--the British authorities dispatch their own investigator from Simla-- Sikander overcomes obstacles, false trails, and the growing hostility of the English Establishment, while learning that Major Russell was not as pukka, as proper, as he liked to pretend. 

Will the Maharaja work through a surplus of suspects and motives before the British shut him down and cover up the truth about the Major's death? 






Things I Liked: 

1. I liked the idea of an Indian detective set against the backdrop of Colonial India in the early 20th century. I am a big fan of Byomkesh Bakshi and so, I was quite chuffed to see this first book in the series about a Maharaja turned detective! 

2. There is a lot of detail about how the fictional town of Rajpore looks like.. from the walled city, the royal palace- various rooms, durbar halls, banquet halls etc.- to the British township, the Residency, Gymkhana Clubs etc. It got a wee bit tiresome but, for the most part, I quite enjoyed all the details as it brought this world to life. The balance between details-for-the-sake-of-details and details-to-help-you-get-a-better-sense-of-the-place is a healthy one. 

3. The crime itself was quite cleverly plotted. The Resident- Russell- was found dead in a locked room and just about everyone who crossed paths with him wanted the man dead! So, there were plenty of suspects and, therefore, red herrings- always a good thing in a murder mystery. 

4. The detective- Maharaja Sikander Singh- is an interesting character. He is cast in the same mould as the great literary detectives he is inspired from- Holmes, Poirot and their ilk. More Holmes, I would say.. he is taciturn and a big believer in using science and deductive reasoning. Like Holmes, he is also bored when his mind is not occupied with an enigma or two to solve. He has promise as a detective around whom a series could be built.. but in my opinion, he needs a sidekick.. and I think perhaps a sidekick was introduced in the last chapter of the book.. let's see if that pans out when the next book in the series comes out. 

Things I Didn't Like: 

1. The killer was, sort of, obvious to me, but I am an avid consumer of the crime/thriller genre and so, it could just be that I have seen this formula/format before. I mean, given the victim was the Resident of this kingdom, only very few people had the sort of clearance needed to get into his bedroom and kill him.. so, I had guessed who the killer could've been but I read the book waiting for the motive to come to light.

2. The book could've benefitted from sharper editing. There is a lot of internal monologue of Sikander's, which goes on for pages at a time as he reminisces about his childhood, young adulthood etc. I understand the need to do that to build a character up and provide valuable context, but in this book, it was overdone. Like I said, sharper editing would've made the book much more engaging. 


Rating: 3/5
(This is an interesting book and unique in its premise. You could sample the first chapter by clicking on the 'Preview' button in the picture above 'Things I Like') 

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