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Death in the East

by Abir Mukherjee

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1016218,754 (3.85)5

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I've enjoyed the previous three Sam Wyndham novels. They have been an eye-opening trip into a country and an era I know shamefully little about: rich, colorful, conflicted, dangerous, outrageous and difficult. This one... not so much.

As Sam sweats and pukes his way through withdrawal in an Assamese compound, the story splits into alternating segments - memories from 1905 when he was a green constable faced with the fatal battering of a lover in Whitechapel (hello, Ripper Street...), to the British colony of Jatinga in 1922 and its greedy, brutal overlord - someone who happens to be from the Whitechapel past. And who (sigh) is of course to married to a woman. Who, of course, Sam is a sucker for. (And just when we'd been relieved of Annie Grant for a time...) Both story segments involve the old "locked room murder" setup, which I've always found tricksy and boring... Mukherjee admits he just wanted to see if he could pull one off (let alone two). There are strange infodump conversations, where people who have told lies to everyone else suddenly unburden themselves at length to Wyndham, for no apparent reason. There are the requisite derring-do episodes of falling through windows into abandoned buildings, losing a gun, climbing a drainpipe, etc. It largely felt formulaic, even lazy. There are repeated conversations about burn marks, about thunderstorms, and if he mentions it once he mentions it half a dozen times that there is no electricity in Jatinga. And he really needs a no-nonsense editor: there are many sentences going something like: "I stubbed out my cigarette, made a mental note to ask him... headed back inside, just as the maid returned with sandwiches... which were terrible, and then we called in the next suspect." Abir! We do NOT need every breath and step and stray thought! No wonder this thing is over 400 pages long!

All that said, there are flashes of what make this series worth trying. Surendranath appears, and is given authority over the investigation. The political winds in India are changing, and this gentle, intelligent, thoughtful Indian is paying close attention. At last, he firmly yet almost affectionately puts Sam Wyndham in his place - or rather points out the falseness of his and the general British place in India, and concludes: "You call yourself my friend, yet you don't even make the effort to call me by my real name." Wyndham is properly abashed. And for the rest of the book, "Surrender-Not" becomes Suren.

Abir: can you please make up an actual flesh and blood woman who is not gorgeous, immaculately dressed, obscenely rich, selfish and obnoxious? Bessie Drummond was a start, but you killed her almost immediately - too smart for her own good, maybe? Please cut all the cigarette-lighting and stubbing and drink-pouring, and walking from room to room or down stairs or across streets. Work on that for your next one and I'll read it to see how you're doing. Thank you. ( )
  JulieStielstra | May 17, 2021 |
Every book in this series is better than the last.

Really enjoyed the direction Suren's character went in. ( )
  bishnu83 | Apr 6, 2021 |
It's a good locked room puzzle mystery worthy of Agatha Christie. There's a long lead in to the murder, and the investigation really doesn't begin until the last quarter of the book. For readers familiar with the series, the relationship between Captain Sam Wyndham and his sergeant Surendranath Banerjee continues to develop -- at last Sam is calling his sergeant by his correct name, not the lazy version: "Surrender-not". This is the fourth in the series, but new readers can read it without difficulty. It's a great series, the stories combine mystery, historical detail about the British Raj and excellent characterization. ( )
  BrianEWilliams | Jul 5, 2020 |
Two Locked Rooms in Two Easts
Review of the Harvill Sacker paperback edition (Nov. 2019) released simultaneously with the hardcover edition

The Captain Wyndham and Sergeant Bannerjee series has been consistently excellent since it began in 2016 with A Rising Man. The third book in the series Smoke and Ashes (2018) had it take a major step into historical fiction with the visit of the then Prince of Wales to India in the midst of Gandhi's Non-Cooperation Movement. Death in the East is a bit of a holding action in terms of historical events, as Gandhi has suspended the Movement due to the violence that erupted in the Chauri Chaura incident. So the greater events in India are off the page for most of this current installment.

Mukherjee instead gives us two locked room mysteries to keep us engaged in the meantime. The first of these looks back to 1905 when Wyndham was a young constable in the London Metropolitan Police. This occurs in Eastern London in the notorious Whitechapel district. The second brings us further east to 1922 in India where Wyndham is (spoiler for earlier events in the series) recovering from his post World War I opium addition at a rural ashram. The two cases are connected, but it would be a spoiler to say anything further about that. Both cases involve the classic "locked-room" scenario of the mystery genre. A murder victim is found dead in a locked room from which there was no apparent entry or exit by the murderer. In the early case Wyndham is on his own, but of course Bannerjee also joins him to solve the second one. Bannerjee is becoming more his own man in the series now due to the influence of his family in the Non-Cooperation Movement and it will be interesting to see how the partnership evolves together with further historical events.

The series is highly recommended, but should be read in order of publication to best appreciate the evolving characters in the midst of Indian history. ( )
  alanteder | Jun 17, 2020 |
The best in this series so far. Sam is in Assam, undergoing a cure at an ashram for his opium addiction, when he thinks he sees a man from his past in London, a man he thought was dead. Most of the book alternates between the present day of 1922 India and the past of 1905 London, something I often find irritating, but which worked well here. Surendranath turns up for the last third of the novel, once it is solely set in 1922.

The language of the story is beautiful and Sam's narrative voice very attractive and self-deprecating. I am even going to forgive the


allowing the perpetrator to get away with murder for once. My only other quibble would be the unresolved nature of Le Courbet's death. ( )
1 vote pgchuis | Feb 23, 2020 |
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There’s an east wind coming, Watson … such a wind as never blew on England yet … But it’s God’s own wind none the less, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared.

Arthur Conan Doyle, His Last Bow
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