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A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee

A Necessary Evil

by Abir Mukherjee

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674250,586 (4.02)14



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A Necessary Evil is a solid second book in what is becoming a fascinating police detective series set in colonial India. Reading book #1, a Rising Man, is not essential, except for the fact you just wouldn't want to miss the series starter. This addition to the series continues the adventures of Captain Wyndham and Sgt. Banerjee, as they venture into the world of one of India's princely states to investigate an assassination. Of course, there are also appearances by love interest Annie Grant. This certainly achieved what I want in historical fiction - I'll be up late tonight researching more about the area, Hindu deities, and probably even diamond mines. ( )
  PeggyDean | Jun 2, 2018 |
I enjoyed A Necessary Evil so much that, when I finished, I had no idea the book was almost four hundred pages long; that's how fast-moving the pace is. It also has a marvelous, twisty plot made even more so by the fact that a male investigator has no access to the zenana, the part of a Muslim or Hindu household reserved for women only.

The setting of this book is absolutely marvelous, as Sam Wyndham (late of the British Expeditionary Forces and Scotland Yard) moves from the bustling, mostly modern, city of Calcutta to a maharajah's kingdom. One minute he's being driven in a silver-plated Rolls Royce to dine with people whose clothing is fastened with diamond buttons, and the next he's participating in a tiger hunt followed by a dance where the host is an expert at the Turkey Trot. Sam is an interesting mix of modern and traditional. Fighting in the trenches during the First World War has knocked a lot of the old nonsense out of him, but not all. Living in India as the British Raj is winding down and being partnered with an Indian sergeant means Wyndham is always being faced with new attitudes.

The reader also learns all sorts of interesting things about the culture and politics of India during this time. With laws such as the Doctrine of Lapse, the British should never have been surprised when India insisted on regaining its freedom. (If an Indian ruler died without a direct heir, or if he was what the British termed incompetent, the government would seize control of his kingdom and all its assets.)

The biggest learning experience of all for Sam was finding out how to conduct an investigation when so many of the people he needed to question were in purdah-- females in seclusion. It was a world completely beyond his comprehension, and one that made the mystery more difficult for him to solve-- even though someone blatantly gave him the key to solving it.

I found A Necessary Evil to be a wonderful mystery and the perfect companion piece to Sujata Massey's The Widows of Malabar Hill. I'm also looking forward with a great deal of anticipation to Abir Mukherjee's next book. ( )
  cathyskye | Apr 4, 2018 |
I heard about this book on an episode of Two Crime Writers and a Microphone (a UK-based podcast that focuses on crime fiction) and was intrigued enough to track down a copy. The tale of a royal murder in 1920’s India and the difficult investigation that results well and truly lived up to my expectations for a smart, entertaining read.

The event that sparks the novel’s action is the assassination of Prince Adhir, heir to the kingdom of Sambalpore. He happens to be in Calcutta and in the presence of police Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant ‘Surrendernot’ Banergee when he is killed which is how our heroes come to be force their way into the investigation into his death despite the reality that neither the pair’s superiors nor the people or authorities in Sambalpore want them involved.

There’s a lot of historical crime fiction around but the setting in India at the time when the British Raj was declining offers something genuinely different to all the rest and Mukherjee has depicted it evocatively and intelligently. The interplay between the British and local people is a key ingredient of the setting and without awkward exposition or flagrantly implausible modern sensibilities this aspect of the book is handled particularly well. The general physical and social attributes of the location are also well drawn, providing that sense of virtual travel that the best such fiction does.

I enjoyed meeting the two main characters who are cleverly given a kind of equality that might not have been available to them in real life. Although he is subordinate to Wyndham in terms of organisational structure the Sergeant has an equal amount of agency and purpose in the story and does not merely act as the traditional sidekick. The fact that he doesn’t have an opium addiction, whereas Wyndham does, made Sergeant Banerjee a favourite for me as I’m a bit tired of addicted detectives. I get that they are probably realistic – who wouldn’t need some kind of salve when confronted with an endless stream of human misery in the way they are – but if I wanted that kind of realism I’d read more true crime. This probably makes me the worst kind of reader as I claim to enjoy books with an authentic feel but my idiosyncrasies can’t be helped. There is an array of compelling supporting characters in the book, many of them women who display a strength and independence I found appealing.

There is an earlier novel in this series which I haven’t read but I did not feel at a disadvantage for that. The author has provided enough explanation of previous events for me to grasp what’s going on, but not too much that I would feel unable to go back and read that first book (which I have every intention of doing). A NECESSARY EVIL has elements of humour, romance and politics in addition to the intriguing, suspense-filled mystery at its heart. It is a top read.
  bsquaredinoz | Dec 6, 2017 |
Not much time has elapsed since the first book of this series. In the background is the unrest generated by the Indian independence movement. To assuage the growing clamour for Home Rule, the British government in India has come up with the idea of an Indian House of Lords called the Chamber of Princes. All the native princes are being invited to join, and it is important that the wealthiest did so. The Maharajah of Sambalpore, even though the state is amongst the smallest, is billed as among the wealthiest princes. His eldest son Crown Prince Adhir went to school with Sergeant Banerjee and has requested a meeting with him in Calcutta. Adhir is against joining the Chamber of Princes. He has also received some threatening letters, which ironically he can't read as they are in local script. On their way back to their hotel the prince is assassinated.

Having set the scene in Calcutta in 1920, the novel really makes very little use of the political turmoil of the time. Instead Wyndham and Banerjee become embroiled in local politics in Sambalpore, chasing down the person behind the prince's assassination.

The novel provides an interesting depiction of the contrast between the old way of life and the new. The Maharajah and his court behave as if there is no threat to their way of life or their social status. In some ways the novel is a police procedural but Wyndham and Banerjee tread a fine line between what the British Raj wants to do, and what it can achieve without upseting local protocols. ( )
  smik | Nov 19, 2017 |
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It's not often you see a man with a diamond in his beard.
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India, 1920. 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.… (more)

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