There is always a wonderful feeling of excitement when I discover something new. The BBC iPlayer can offer a binge of viewing as Blue Lights took me to raw police recruits on the streets in Belfast, or you can go back in time, if you prefer, with Vienna Blood or Paris Police 1905. Crime and murder can be so gripping, and, as we supporters of Pittenweem Library know so well, books can be better than the TV screen. I rediscovered this truth on an EasyJet flight last Wednesday as I began Abir Mukherjee’s debut novel.
The setting for A Rising Man is 1919 Calcutta in the days of the Raj. How the author, brought up in the west of Scotland, manages to create the stifling heat, the smells, the claustrophobia of this vibrant city and its political unrest is amazing. Along with Captain Sam Wyndham, detective from Scotland Yard (rather than Belfast, Vienna or Paris), we are thrust into the cacophony of Calcutta. Raw recruit to the Raj, Wyndham seeks a fresh start, while still haunted by what he experienced in the trenches of the Great War and the untimely death of his wife. Against this backdrop the novel moves at pace. Neither he nor the reader has time to acclimatise to this new world, as the discovery of a body with a message demands immediate police action. The body was that of a senior British officer; the message was a note warning the ‘occupiers’ to leave. Lob in political turbulence, opium dens, terrorists, debates about the justification for violence by revolutionaries, shady units within the army and police, British traders sailing very close to the wind, political masters wanting everything solved yesterday, and we find a cocktail of intrigue and deception surrounding this murder enquiry. Wyndham is not alone in his investigations. I especially loved Sergeant ‘Surrender-not’ Banerjee, a rare Indian in CID, and the mysterious Anglo-Indian Miss Grant.
No need for a spoiler alert from me – there will be none, other than obviously he finds the murderer. Our local crime-writing expert Val McDermid heralds this as ‘one of the most exciting debut novels I’ve read in years’. Who am I to disagree? A Rising Man is in our Library now. Enjoy it. I’ve already got another one in the series for next Wednesday’s EasyJet flight, so there’s no need for me to download something from BBC iPlayer.
[The whole Wyndham and Banerjee series is in the library]