The News Source You've Been Waiting For

Arts Entertainments

Abir Mukherjee adds a twist to his winning crime formula

The Shadows of Men. By Abir Mukherjee. Pegasus Crime; 352 pages; $25.95. Harvill Secker; £12.99

Abir Mukherjee’s series of novels set in colonial India is crime fiction at its finest. The Scottish-born author’s debut in 2016, “A Rising Man”, followed two officers of the Imperial Police Force, Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant Surendranath “Surrender-not” Banerjee, as they investigated the murder of a British civil servant in Calcutta in 1919. In that novel and the three that followed, Mr Mukherjee delivered a mixture of fiendish mystery and convincing period detail, with sharp depictions of individual struggle and national unrest.

The fifth outing for Wyndham and Banerjee, “The Shadows of Men”, takes place in 1923. In this story the men race to solve a crime amid escalating religious and political tension. Lord Taggart, Calcutta’s commissioner of police, tasks Banerjee with keeping tabs on a Muslim politician, Farid Gulmohamed, in the run-up to elections. But while tailing his quarry, Banerjee comes across the body of Prashant Mukherjee, a leading Hindu theologian. After Banerjee reports this to Taggart, the police chief is critically injured in an assassination attempt.

Having been in the wrong place at the wrong time twice, Banerjee finds himself under suspicion. He is forced to go on the run—and on the hunt for the real culprit. For his part, Wyndham conducts a frantic search for Banerjee before Major Boyle and his team in military intelligence can track him down. When the heroes are reunited they combine their resources and double their efforts to catch a killer, avert an ethnic massacre and save Banerjee from the gallows.

Once again, Mr Mukherjee tells a captivating tale with an intricate plot, compelling characters, wry humour and diverse range of locations. The steady supply of twists, turns, red herrings and cliffhangers adds to the drama and builds momentum towards a thrilling denouement. Yet what sets this adventure apart is the choice of narrator. The previous four books are told from Wyndham’s perspective. In “The Shadows of Men”, however, the chapters alternate between Wyndham’s and Banerjee’s point of view. That provides a salutary balance: Banerjee’s narration reveals his methods of deduction, his insight into his native Bengal and his increasingly disillusioned views of the Raj. “Englishmen,” he muses, “weren’t in the habit of robbing Indians, unless it was on a national scale.”

At the beginning of the book, Banerjee explains he is recounting “the story of my fall”. But it is also the story of his rise, from humble subaltern sidekick to a vocal partner with a renewed sense of purpose. It is a satisfying transformation, which leaves the reader eager to discover where Mr Mukherjee will take his winning double act next.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *