A Rising Man (Sam Wyndham 1) by Abir Mukherjee

Murder in the Raj…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

a rising manThe corpse of a white man is discovered in an alleyway in an unsavoury part of Calcutta, and Inspector Sam Wyndham is assigned to investigate. It is 1919, and Wyndham has just arrived in India after recovering from injuries he received during the war, so he will have to depend for local knowledge on his two colleagues – Sergeant Digby, an Englishman with all the worst attitudes of imperial superiority and a grudge against Wyndham for getting the job he felt should be his own; and an Oxford educated Indian from a well-to-do family, Sergeant “Surrender-Not” Banerjee, so called because Digby finds his real name too difficult to pronounce. Back in England, Wyndham had worked in the CID and Special Branch, and had been recruited into the intelligence service during the war. It is his wartime boss, now posted to Calcutta, who has persuaded Wyndham to come to work for him there.

It is soon discovered that the victim is Alexander MacAuley, one of the many Scots working in the Colonial government. His eminent position there means that it is likely the murder was a political act, carried out by the terrorists seeking to achieve independence for India. Wyndham agrees this is the most probable motive but, being a conscientious officer, he is also determined to keep other options open and to look into MacAuley’s personal life. But this isn’t the only case on Wyndham’s plate – a train has been held up by a gang of men, again probably terrorists, who killed one of the guards. When it appears an infamous terrorist leader is back in Calcutta, Wyndham has to ask himself if the two events could be related.

According to the brief author’s bio on Amazon, Abir Mukherjee, I assume of Indian heritage, was born in London and grew up in the West of Scotland. I was intrigued to see how these different influences would play out in a book about India under the Raj, especially given the huge Scottish involvement in colonial India. The answer is brilliantly! Mukherjee knows his stuff for sure, and the picture he paints of Calcutta and the Indian political situation of the time positively reeks of authenticity. His British characters are equally believable and there are many references to Scottish culture that again have the ring of total truthfulness, and are often very funny. The dialects of the Scottish characters are excellent – they give a real flavour of regional Scottish speech patterns without being in any way hard for non-Scots to understand.

Abir Mukherjee
Abir Mukherjee

In truth, I feared in advance that the book might turn out to be something of a fashionable anti-Empire rant, but actually he keeps it very well balanced, steering a careful course between showing the iniquities of the colonial system without being too condemnatory of the individuals operating within it. Through the terrorist aspect of the plot, we hear about the rise of Gandhi and the Congress Party, and the move towards non-violent resistance. Wyndham is an enlightened man, but not anachronistically so. He is aware of the relatively tiny number of Brits in India, meaning that the co-operation of Indians at all levels is essential to the maintenance of the colonial system. So to him, fair play and even-handed justice are more than just desirable for their own sake, they are necessary tools in the struggle to maintain Indian support for the colonial government. Surrender-Not gives the educated Indian perspective. He is ambivalent about the question of independence but believes it will inevitably come, and that it is therefore the duty of Indians to prepare themselves so that they are ready to run their own country when that day comes.

But, lest this make it all sound like a heavy political snorefest, let me hastily say that all the historical and political stuff is done subtly, never feeling that it’s wandering into info-dump territory or veering towards the polemical. Mukherjee uses it to provide an authentic background, but the focus of the book is on the investigation and the development of the characters of Wyndham and Banerjee. The excellence of the writing means that the tone is light and the story entertaining, even though it touches on some dark aspects of life. And the personal outweighs the political – in the end, as with all the best detective novels, the motives lie in the murky depths of the human heart.

A great novel – hard to believe it’s a début. And I’m delighted that it’s apparently the first book in a series. I will be queuing up for the next instalment in Wyndham and Banerjee’s adventures – Mukherjee has leapt straight onto my must-read list!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House Vintage.

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32 thoughts on “A Rising Man (Sam Wyndham 1) by Abir Mukherjee

  1. I’m so very glad you enjoyed this, FictionFan. This is one of those that have been on my wish list for a while now, and I just haven’t got to it yet. It sounds like a terrific read – as much a look at India at that time as it is a crime story. And the characters sound interesting!

    • It really is a good one – so well researched and the main characters are likeable with plenty of room for development. And it’s such an interesting period of history – as you know I’m always interested in the history of Britain’s involvement in India. Definitely one for yout TBR… 😉

  2. I really enjoyed this one too, although as ever I’m slow with my review! I noticed the wee Scottish jokes too. He was appearing at Bloody Scotland, and although I didn’t get to his panel, I did spot him chatting to Ian Rankin – who’d clearly had a few drams, as had many there! – at Craig Robertson’s book launch on the Friday night. Did you come through to any of Bloody Scotland? It was rather good, and as ever, the best fun was to be had socializing! You must come through next year, FF!

    • It’s a good one – can’t wait to see how the series develops! I loved all the Scottish stuff – especially the idea that if the Church of Scotland is the “true church” then Heaven will be full of Scots! 😉 No I didn’t go in the end – it conflicted with the tennis, and the tennis won. Glad you enjoyed it though – maybe one day I’ll go…

  3. Oh no… You’ve tempted me once again! I’m interested to see how one manages to juggle all of these factors without coming across polemic, especially considering the scope and breadth of his territorial knowledge, AND solve a murder! It’s asking a lot and he seems to deliver. Hmmmm…. I have a FF punch card going, and if I add this, remember your promise to post my Scottish Sam…

    • Hurrah! Yes, I was worried that it might all end up being too heavy or ranty, but he got the balance just about perfectly. And though I’m no expert, all the history and politics sounded right in terms of actual histories I’ve read about the period. I’d love to understand how some people can turn out such a well-finished book on their first attempt! Fear not – once you reach your five, I shall plaster Sam all over the blog. It will be a sacrifice to post pictures of a gorgeous man – you know I’d usually never be so shallow – but I’m willing to make the sacrifice… 😉

  4. Forgot to mention, just finished The Girls… Wow. What a recommendation! The writing was incredible, and I love the parallels between the present (with Sasha) and the past with Suzanne. A definite 5 star!

    • Oh, I’m so glad you enjoyed it – another quite remarkable debut, isn’t it? Yes, indeed, I thought she was quite subtle in showing that times may have changed but that young girls are still just as vulnerable to domination – and I loved how she showed that the girls themselves can be kinda complicit. My list of must-read authors is growing exponentially…!

    • It makes a change! I usually come in at book 8 and then have to add the previous 7 to the TBR. This one is excellent, and as you know I have a bit of a fascination for the history of the Empire…

    • Ooh, yes! It would make a great TV show, and with so many of the old colonial buildings still being in existence they’d be able to get a lot of the locations right. I may start a campaign…

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