Murder in Old Bombay by Nev March
Happy 2023! I wish everyone a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year.
Out with the old….
Last year I had a hard time keeping up with the schedule of reviewing and recommending a mystery every Tuesday. There were two reasons for this. First, I didn’t feel I could recommend some of the mysteries I read. And when that happened, I felt pressure to read another one so I could recommend that one, and I didn’t have time for it. Second, I read lots of other things, too, and since this is a mystery blog, there were weeks I didn’t read a mystery and I would have nothing to recommend come Tuesday morning. I hope I’m making sense.
In with the new…
Thus, my goal this year is to review and recommend a mystery every other Tuesday. My blog posts will alternate with my newsletter, which also goes out every other Tuesday.
So without further ado, my first recommendation of 2023 is Nev March’s beautiful and engrossing mystery, Murder in Old Bombay. This is the first book in March’s Captain Jim and Lady Diana Mysteries (no, not that Lady Diana).
Full disclosure: I have spent time with Nev on several occasions. She is an absolute delight. We belong to a couple of the same writing groups, we have had dinner together, and we have attended at least one reading together. But she doesn’t know I’m writing this review, and everything I say here is the truth. If I didn’t love the book, I wouldn’t recommend it.
When the book opens, we meet main character Captain Jim Agnihotri, a young man recovering from serious wounds sustained in battle. The British maintain control over much of India, and many Indian people harbor deep resentment toward the British. Captain Jim is caught between two worlds: his mother, who died when Jim was very young, was Indian; his father, whom Jim never knew, was British. This was a time in history when one’s pedigree and the color of one’s skin mattered very much, so Jim doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere.
While still in the hospital, Jim has little to read except newspapers and Sherlock Holmes mysteries. When he reads a newspaper story about the deaths of two women from a high-society Bombay family, he is struck by the horrific manner in which they died and by the sorrowful dignity of the man who lost his wife and his sister in the tragedy.
When he is finally released from the hospital, he takes a job as a journalist and one of his assignments is to interview the man whose wife and sister died. When Jim meets the man, Adi Framji, he is immediately drawn to Adi’s calm demeanor, intelligence, and determination to prove to himself and society that his wife and sister did not commit suicide, as the public has been told. The Framjis are an upstanding Parsee family and Jim has an instinctive notion that someone who means the family harm is behind the deaths. It is important to note that Parsees are a subset of the Indian people, having fled persecution in Persia centuries before. They are a relatively small part of the population, so they keenly observe the custom of marrying within the group—this will come into play later in the book.
Adi hires Jim to help him find out what really happened the day Adi’s wife and sister fell from the top of the university clock tower in broad daylight. As Jim soon discovers, his investigations have threatened someone (or more than one!) and that person intends to stop Jim at all costs.
This story is filled with British Raj history, excitement, and well-paced twists and turns. The author describes Bombay and the Indian countryside in vivid color. There’s enough romance to satisfy even the most jaded reader. More importantly, the main character’s pedigree forms the basis of a fascinating and unsettling look at racism and the social structure at that time in Indian history.
And, of course, there’s the mystery. The whodunit weaves complex (in a good way!) and dastardly motives to bring forth a page-turner that will have readers rooting for the Jim as he makes his way forward at a time when personal and professional stagnation might have been the destiny for people with his parentage. Readers are treated to a graceful and powerful arc of Jim’s character as he moves from self-loathing to self-confidence. And the ending…well, it’s highly satisfying. No spoilers.
I loved this mystery and I would highly recommend it to other lovers of historical mystery. I am looking forward to the second book in the series, Peril at the Exposition.
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