This is my first introduction to Abir Mukherjee’s India-based Sam Wyndham series, now on its third outing. It starts off thrillingly with the drug-addled Calcutta Police force Captain coming round during a raid on an opium den and, in his bid to escape, he encounters a mutilated corpse. The novel is set in the run up to Christmas 1921, with Wyndham, hiding his addiction caused by trauma from the Great War, and his Indian Sergeant known as “Surrender-not” investigating some strangely linked murders during the build up to a royal visit from the Prince of Wales. What lifts this novel above standard adventure-fiction fare is both the strong sense of location and the historical setting of a Calcutta preoccupied with the non-violent, non-co-operation policies advocated by Gandhi which is causing serious malfunctions in the running of the Empire. The political situation creates dilemmas for both British and Indian characters which adds to the richness of the plot.

Mukherjee’s two main characters have been obviously well established in the first two novels allowing him to focus on the historical detail and in bringing 1920’s Calcutta to life. It is a fascinating time in the history of India as Imperialism looks increasingly inappropriate in the aftermath of the War and the events here are based on actual happenings married with the thriller writer’s licence of creating an involving and plausible tale out of these. It works well as a stand-alone novel but readers might wish to start with the award-winning debut A Rising Man to get the most from this quality crime series.

Phil Ramage 4/3

Smoke And Ashes by Abir Mukherjee
Harvill Secker 9781911215141 hbk Jun 2018