I really hope this is the first in a series!
Murder in Old Bombay is author Nev March’s first mystery, and it’s a very nice one. Set during the British Raj, the book weaves seamlessly into and around the real events, locations and attitudes of the time.
The story begins while Captain Jim Agnihotri is recovering in a military hospital and he reads in the newspapers about the deaths of two young women who fell from the clock tower at the University in Bombay. Did they commit suicide, or were they pushed? And why? He is moved to sympathy by the obvious anguish of the widower of one of the victims, so Jim, who is a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, decides to try to apply Holmes’ techniques to the case.
In the process, Jim gets caught up in the lives of the prominent Parsee family to which the two women belonged, the Framji family. This state of affairs is complicated by his somewhat ambiguous status: he is intelligent and a minor military hero (although he doesn’t see himself that way), but he is also an illegitimate half-native, half-British man in a very class-conscious society. And things get even more complicated when he starts to have feelings for one of the Framji daughters. Jim is persistent though, and in spite of many distractions, he manages eventually to bring everything to a satisfactory conclusion.
At the same time, this book isn’t just fluff – it also tackles some hard topics with skill. As Jim takes his investigations to various parts of the country, author March uses his activities to fill the reader in on the stratified society of 1890s India. We get to meet British civil servants and military personnel; Indian rajahs, ranis, and princelings; Afghan villagers; heinous criminals; and a vast crowd of people of various races and religions. And she lets us draw our own conclusions without detracting from the main storyline. March also handles Captain Jim’s apparent PTSD (which was, of course, not an acknowledged thing at that time) with a deft touch. I’ve long been a fan of the “Great Game” period, starting when I first read Kipling’s Kim as a youngster, and I have read several histories and lots of historical fiction set in this era. So I am thrilled to have found a new author writing in this period, and I hope very much that she makes a series out of this first start! And my sincere thanks to both St Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books and NetGalley, who provided me with an advance review copy of Murder in Old Bombay.