14 January 2017

Review: A VERY PUKKA MURDER, Arjun Gaind

  • format: Kindle (.mobi from author)
  • also available on Amazon
  • Series: The Maharajah Mysteries (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 338 pages
  • Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press; Reprint edition (November 1, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1464206457
  • ISBN-13: 978-1464206450
  • Source: review copy as e-book from author
Synopsis (Amazon)

Maharaja Sikander Singh, Light of Heaven, Sword of Justice, Shield of the Faithful, sole ruler of Rajpore, is slow to rise the morning after the 1909 New Year's Ball.

But news of a murder galvanizes him. Major William Russell, the English Resident of Rajpore, is dead in his bed.

A lover of luxury cars and beautiful women, Sikander's deepest passion is for mysteries. As a clock starts ticking, Sikander must overcome obstacles, false trails, and the growing hostility of the English Establishment, even as he learns that Major Russell was not as pukka 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?

Like 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.

My Take

Crime fiction set in the declining years of the British Raj in India, but very much from an Indian point of view. There are characters in here who illustrate the very worst, and most corrupt elements, of the administration. The British have survived the Indian Mutiny (1857) and, convinced of their racial superiority, will survive for another four decades until 1947. Administration in Rajpore in the Punjab in 1909 is a precarious division of power between the Maharajah and the British Resident, found dead in his bed behind a locked door.

Nearly all of those we meet in the British administration are incompetent or corrupt, but are they murderers? For Sikander Singh this is a splendid opportunity to exercise his detection skills, and there seem to be no lack of suspects. His position as Maharajah allows him through doors that other Indians would not be able to access, but even then there are impenetrable barriers.

The structure of the novel is based on best Golden Age crime fiction, with a maze of plot threads, and a plethora of red herrings. As this novel is intended to be first in a trilogy, there is a lot of what I would term "background material", which sometimes is a bit tedious, but it paints a rich picture of the times and the setting. The character of the Maharajah is well developed.

At the end the Maharajah holds a Poirot-like denouement in which the major suspects are dismissed one by one.

A good, interesting, read.

My rating: 4.3

About the Author
Arjun Raj Gaind is one of India's best known comic book writers. He is the creator and author of the critically acclaimed, best-selling graphic novels, Empire of Blood, Reincarnation Man, The Mighty Yeti, Project: Kalki, Blade of the Warrior: Kshatriya, and A Brief History of Death. A Very Proper Murder is his debut novel, the first in a trilogy featuring the adventures of Maharaja Sikander Singh, set against the backdrop of princely India during the heyday of the British Raj.

The author describes his main character as "a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Peter Wimsey".

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