Huge fan of this authors work! Here’s my post to celebrate the release of #2 in his, multi award nominated series!
A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee
The fabulously wealthy kingdom of Sambalpore is home to tigers, elephants, diamond mines and the beautiful Palace of the Sun. But when the heir to the throne is assassinated in the presence of Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant ‘Surrender-Not’ Banerjee, they discover a kingdom riven with suppressed conflict. Prince Adhir was a moderniser whose attitudes – and romantic relationship – may have upset the more religious elements of his country, while his brother – now in line to the throne – appears to be a feckless playboy.
As Wyndham and Banerjee desperately try to unravel the mystery behind the assassination, they become entangled in a dangerous world where those in power live by their own rules and those who cross their paths pay with their lives. They must find a murderer, before the murderer finds them…
Oh my days, this one has left me with such a huge #BookHangover! It was a novel that consistently engaged my interest and ticked all the boxes, of my favourite themes in the historical fiction genre! I am now left with the lonely and possibly lengthy wait for the next in this fabulous series! *dabs tears with tissue 🙂
The novel is set in 1920 India with Captain Wyndham and his faithful police partner Sgt surrender-not, hot on the heels of another complex case. Surrender-not is requested to visit the Crown Prince Adhir Singh of Sambalpore, having known each other previously from their schooling in Harrow. The Prince’s father being the 5th richest man in India, the poverty divide is a huge theme within this novel. Upon the joyful reunion, the Prince confesses to Surrender-not to having received threatening notes, left amongst his possessions. We meet the Colonel Skekar Arora and the ‘Dewan’ Prime Minister Dave. As they set out on their journey, in the Prince’s Rolls Royce, a shot fires out and the young Prince is left dead……
The relationship between Sam and Surrender-not, is based on very different life experiences and they complement each other perfectly. I find this so intriguing and it is rapidly becoming one of my favourite fictional police partnerships. Within this novel the character of Miss Annie Grant makes a return, but it does not draw the two police officers away from their roles and bond.
Sam and Surrender- not continue their investigations, make more difficult by the formation of the society that exists in Sambalpore and the Anglo/Sambalpore relations. Sam has no authority at Sambalpore and it is within this environment that it is Surredner-not’s moment to shine…….
They discover the notes left for the young Prince and their alarming content
“Your life is in danger, leave Sambalpore before the 27th day of Ashada”
It appears the Prince did not heed their advice.
At Sambalpore the depth of Indian culture, is fully explored and it makes for fascinating reading. From the Palace Of The Sun to the curse of Sambalpore, it is all explained with fascinating detail and intelligent insight. The issue of power/privilege so unevenly distributed is raised when relevant to the plot and helps the reader, to gather a full view of what life really was like in colonial India for both the Indians and British alike.
It is rumoured the Prince Adhir was in the midst of an affair with a young woman, not uncommon in the polygamy society that Sambalpore allows. However, when she is identified as a white woman named Katherine Pemberley, the story suddenly becomes much more complex. An era when British/Indian relationships are taboo for everyday citizens, a young Prince fell in love……..
When Sam attempts to interview the Prince’s wives and the wives of his father, he is met with disdain. For no one can diminish the sanctity of the Zenana. The harem of the wives, the relationships they navigate are beyond his comprehension. It isn’t long before Sam finds himself a ‘person non grata’ and recalled to Calcutta. Knowing they are onto something and with the mystery and secrets unfolding, Sam and Surrender-not must solve this case fast. Is this a religious act of violence? Is it an act of sabotage at the match between the prince and his white lover? Is his brother, Prince Punit at risk?
I cannot rate this novel, highly enough! There are so many terrific scenes that playout. Huge respect to the author for the brilliance of his ideas and knowing exactly what moments to place them in the novel itself. One of my favourite scenes has to be the royal tiger hunt on elephant back! It is without a doubt one novel; I would love to be shown as a TV series.
A huge 5* Genius and I look forward to the next novel in this amazing series!
Q) This novel, via a turn of events, offers the opportunity for Surrender-not to become more of a voice within the novel. Was this intentional and how was it inspired?
AM: Hi Abby, thanks for having me on your blog, and thank you for being such a great supporter of Sam and Surrender-not’s adventures.
A) You’re right. I was keen to develop Surrender-not’s role in the second novel. The action is set a year after A Rising Man and he and Sam have had a while to get to know each other. I think Surrender-not is now less star-struck than he used to be by Sam’s Scotland Yard past, and at the same time he’s becoming more confident in himself.
I’m not sure what the inspiration was exactly, just that I had a feeling that over time, the relationship between him and Sam should develop into one of equals. We’re not there yet, but he’s definitely started down that particular road.
To be honest, the most difficult part was getting the balance right. In the first draft, I think I made Surrender-not slightly too confident, which really didn’t sit well with either his rank or the fact that he was an Indian in a British dominated system. I pared him back a bit in the second draft and hopefully their relationship comes across as warm and authentic.
Q) The novel covers the harem of wives at Sambalpore. Which I was captivated by. I know from the authors note at the back of the novel, that this was inspired by a real life situation. Can you expand on this for the readers?
A) Absolutely. Before I started writing, I knew I wanted to set this book in the world of the Indian Maharajas, as they were such colourful characters and it was such a fascinating time. In their day, they were the richest men in the world, and many of them were considered to be gods by their subjects. They were polygamous, taking several wives and often having many concubines, all of whom lived in the harem, which could only be accessed by the maharajah and his eunuchs.
A) When I started researching the period though, I realised that I’d completely misunderstood the balance of power in these harems. I had a view of them as being pleasure palaces and places of debauchery, all for the benefit of some louche maharajah, but the truth is that these harems, cut off from the male world, were actually centres of power from which the maharanis, princesses and concubines wielded significant influence. These women often had investments in businesses and became wealthy in their own right, managing their affairs from within the harem.
Q) One thing, I loved was the theme of poverty/privilege inequality that existed in both British and Indian Colonial society. I felt this added an honesty to the novel and as you read along, you feel you are watching these scenes play out. Did you decide to include this all along, or was it where the story of Prince Adhir took you?
A) That’s a good question. I think it was probably the latter. It really was a fascinating time and place, and I’ve said, these maharajas were extremely wealthy. There are so many examples of their excesses. One came to London and bought every Rolls Royce in the showroom in Mayfair, transported them back to India and used them as garbage trucks, all because he thought the sales assistant had looked down on him because he was Indian. Another filled his swimming pool with Dom Perignon to celebrate the birth of a son; and all of this luxury was set in the midst of the huge poverty that the masses of Indians lived in. One of the interesting things though, is that their subjects didn’t seem to begrudge them their wealth.
Q) I personally think this series would make a fantastic TV series and is exactly the sort of novel, I would urge TV producers to look at, more diversity is desperately needed on our TV screens as well as in our novels. Is it something you hope for one day?
A) Well we’ve optioned the TV rights to a company called Big Talk Productions, which is part owned by ITV, but conversations have been really slow. I was contacted a few months ago by a big Hollywood TV star (I won’t say who) but he’d read the book and said he’d be interested in playing Surrender-not. As with anything to do with TV, things take a lot of time, and for the moment I’m not getting my hopes up!
Q) I absolutely loved a specific scene involving elephants, (Which I did not name in my review, due to spoilers). Although elephants remained actually a very small theme, it was amazing to see them in this novel. Was there an inspiration behind this?
A) Again, their inclusion was inspired by real events. They’re extremely smart animals and were trained for a range of uses, from hauling logs, to hunting, to warfare and carrying out executions. There is a report that at the funeral of one maharajah, his elephants actually did cry.
Q) I have to ask, as I am dying to know. Will there be a Sam and Surrender-not #3? Are we allowed any hints of themes or a working title?
A) There will indeed be a Book 3, and I’m due to hand in the first draft at the end of this month. It’s provisionally titled ‘Smoke and Ashes’ and is set in 1921. The action takes place back in Calcutta and the backdrop is Gandhi’s first real call for non-violent resistance against the British. It was a tumultuous time and into that febrile atmosphere, the British government decided that it would be nice to send the Prince of Wales’ on a visit to the city.
Without giving too much away, Sam has to investigate a series of killings which he is convinced are linked but which he can’t discuss with his superiors without the risk of losing his job.
Q) I know your family is hugely important to you, as noted in your dedication and acknowledgements, of both novels. What does Mrs Mukherjee think to the series and have your sons been able to read it yet?
A) My wife, Sonal, has been hugely supportive. As you know, Abby, I’m still doing the day job, which means the writing is relegated to late nights and weekends. That means less time with the family, and it’s something I feel quite guilty about. Sonal loves the series (or so she tells me) but I think she’s just amazed that her stupid husband might actually be not too bad at something!
Q) what are your author recommendations for reads in the historical fiction genre? And in particular novels set in India?
A) In terms of historical fiction, I’m a huge fan of Philip Kerr’s series featuring Bernie Gunther, a detective working in Nazi Germany, and also of Martin Cruz Smith’s novels featuring Arkady Renko, a detective in the Moscow police force during the Communist era. Both writers are among the best in the business, and their characters are sublime. What I like most is that you can learn a lot about the history of a period while still enjoying a great, page-turning read.
In terms of Indian historical fiction, I’d recommend The Siege of Krishnapur by JG Farrell or Bhowani Junction by John Masters, which was made into a film in the sixties, staring Ava Gardner and Stewart Grainger.
Those were obviously written by Englishmen. If you wanted an Indian view of the period, you could try the Byomkesh Bakshi novels by Saradindu Bhattacharya, which were written in the 1920s. Byomkesh Bakshi is India’s answer to Sherlock Holmes, and like the Baker Street detective, Bakshi relies on his intellect to solve the mysteries that confront him.
*Huge thank you to Abir Mukherjee for agreeing to be featured on my blog in a Q&A. Thank you for the fantastic read, I wish you well in your success with this novel and I sincerely hope you win ALL the awards you have been nominated for 🙂
AM: Thank you so much, Abby, for having me on your blog. I’m really looking forward to seeing you at the Isle of Wight Literary Festival later this year!