Sunday, 6 May 2018

Book Review: Death at the Durbar by Arjun Raj Gaind

Book: Death at the Durbar 

Author: Arjun Raj Gaind 

Pages: 368 

Read: The paperback edition 

Read in: 3 hours 

Plot Summary: December 1911. India is in a tizzy. The old walls of Mughal Delhi are bedecked, as the British are hosting a grand durbar to celebrate the coronation of the new king, George V. 

Cooling his heels at the Majestic Hotel as he awaits the king's arrival, a bored Maharaja Sikander Singh of Rajpore is paid a surreptitious visit by two British officers, who insist that he accompany them to the king emperor's camp. 

There, an old friend, Malik Umar Hayat Khan, who works for Lord Hardinge, tells Sikander that his services as a sleuth are required, and ushers him into the king emperor's personal chambers. Inside is a dead nautch girl who appears to have been strangled. 

And Sikander must find the killer before scandal erupts. With far too many suspects with very strong motives, will the Maharaja be able to solve the case and save the Durbar from ruin?

General Thoughts: I read Arjun Raj Gaind's first book- A Very Pukka Murder- last year and it was decent enough. I found it a bit long-winded but not bad. Review's here. So, when I saw that there was a second book in the series, I was curious to read it and see if it was any better. Also, the premise sounded interesting. The story is set against the Delhi Durbar of 1911 and promised a lot of masala and so, I decided to give the book a shot

Things I Liked:
  • Like I mentioned, the book's premise is very interesting. The murder of a nautch girl is set against the backdrop of King George V's Coronation Durbar in Delhi in 1911. So, there are multiple references to and historical antecedents of some of India's biggest princely states in this book, which was quite interesting to read as well. 
  • One of the complaints that I had with the previous book by Gaind is that there were multiple pages of Sikander's internal monologues. Thankfully, in this book, perhaps because he only has 24 hours to solve this case, there are no stream of consciousness-type monologues. Instead, we get to see Sikander and his sidekick, Campbell, jump into investigating the murder double quick, which is was a good thing be! 
  • I also liked that there were multiple red herrings in this book and each of the suspects had a decent enough motive to want the nautch girl dead. Unlike the first book, the killer is not very obvious in this one, which is always a good thing! I hate nothing more than crime/ thriller books where the killer is obvious from his/her very introduction! 
  • I liked the context provided by the author on each of the key princely states of India at that point. Was quite interesting to read about the pecking order of princely states under the Raj as well and who were loyal to them and who were beginning to rebel. 

Things I Didn't Like: 
  • There were no real clues about who the killer could be, no breadcrumbs for the reader, which made the book a little less engaging for me. I like being challenged by crime writers to think for myself and form my own theories when I read books. There wasn't anything of that sort in this book that allows you to do that.. which, is possibly why I read this book in 3 hours but scattered over a week or so! 

Rating: 3.5/5 

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