MORE GREAT READS FOR AUGUST, 2016
A Rising Man, by Abir Mukherjee
Now. Here’s a Whodunit with a difference – the setting, for a start: the great British-established capital of Bengal, Calcutta, in 1919; a time when the sun had not yet set on the great British Empire, but the twilight is lowering as objections and unrest fomented by that seemingly innocuous little lawyer Mohandas Ghandi are starting to be felt.
Into this gathering disquiet arrives First World War veteran Captain Samuel Wyndham, recruited from Scotland Yard by Commissioner Lord Taggart, head of the Imperial Police Force in Bengal. Taggart hopes that Wyndham’s superior Detective skills will expose those shadowy beings who are bent on sabotage, sedition and terrorist acts in a bid to drive the British from India, and the situation is worsened by the discovery of the body of a burra sahib, a British civil servant of high standing lying in the gutter outside a Calcutta brothel with his throat cut.
A speedy solving of the crime is required ASAP, especially to demonstrate to ‘those natives’ that British Law and Order reigns supreme, and is executed with accurate and unswerving efficiency: Wyndham is expected to find the perpetrator post-haste, despite less than stellar backup from his new colleagues, a white sub-inspector called Digby, already sulking because he feels Wyndham’s job should be his; and a ‘native’ Sergeant, Surendranath Banerjee, called ‘Surrender-not’ because it is easier to say. Digby is also scathing of the reason Banerjee has a position in the police force, stating contemptuously in the Sergeant’s presence: ‘Sergeant Banerjee, is, apparently, one of the finest new additions to His Majesty’s Imperial Police Force and the first Indian to post in the top three in the entrance examinations. He and his ilk’, continues Digby, ‘are the fruits of this government’s policy of increasing the number of natives in every branch of the administration, God help us.’
Which Wyndham finds is a telling example of the Raj’s opinion of the people it rules. After having survived the cauldron of trench warfare, his feelings towards the ‘natives’ are ambivalent; besides, he has secret shortcomings of his own to conquer and sorrows that refuse to stay buried. He hopes he can survive his past experiences and present alien surroundings, not least because the deeper he probes into the burra sahib’s murder, the more obstacles are thrown in his way, as in a spectacular lack of co-operation from his supposed colleagues in British Military intelligence, a severe beating administered by thugs employed by same, and an almost successful attempt on his own life – by whom?
Mr Mukherjee writes with great verve and humour. His characters for the most part ring true, but he can’t resist going for the florid and torrid approach when he reveals the identity of The Murderer: the Villain has centre stage for more time than is strictly necessary to explain How, Why and Where hedunit; in fact I think the only reason he didn’t twirl his moustaches at the end was an oversight by the author. But!
This is Mr Mukherjee’s debut novel, and the first of a series. I am sure it will succeed because of the time in which it is set, and Mr Mukherjee’s intelligent and reasoned analysis of events exposing the jingoistic approach of the Raj, perpetuated in literature and deed by all those burra sahibs, those ‘Rising Men’ whose rule created the reason for their expulsion. FOUR STARS.
Outfoxed, by David Rosenfelt.
David Rosenfelt’s Andy Carpenter novels are heaps of fun and enormously popular; the author’s humour and great love of dogs permeate every page and there isn’t a continuing character that the reader doesn’t enjoy meeting again, from Andy’s two staunch friends Pete and Vince, loyally keeping him company at Charlie’s Bar whilst he watches the Baseball – loyal and staunch because he always pays the bill – for Andy is the one with the money, thanks to an enormous trust fund, so it’s only fair that he front up with the cash - friendship has its price, after all; to Willy and Sondra Miller, who help him run the rescue shelter for dogs that is beloved to all their hearts, and his office lady Edna, who considers it a personal affront if he expects her to do any work; not to mention the great loves of his life, his wife Laurie and adopted son Ricky, and The Best Dog in the Whole World, Tara.
This is a tried and true, very successful formula for Mr Rosenfelt (see 2013 review below), and I’ve enjoyed each book enormously – till now.
It pains me to say it, but he seems to have lost his mojo with this latest addition to Andy’s adventures. The baddies are two-dimensional, provoking yawns instead of suspense and/or horror (now, I feel really disloyal typing that – maybe I felt that way because it was late at night when I read it!) and even some of the regular characters seem to be operating at half-speed, possibly because there is very little that is new in the plotting.
Because of his trust fund, Andy doesn’t have to earn his daily bread; the only time he takes on his role of defense lawyer is when a prospective client hasn’t a chance of escaping a long gaol term; then it is up to Andy’s undoubted expertise to convince the judge and jury of his client’s innocence, in this case a rich technology company owner, Brian Atkins, who is nearing the end of a three-year sentence for embezzlement when he escapes from his minimum security prison, supposedly to murder his wife and his cheating business partner. Andy’s investigations reveal that the evidence against Brian for embezzlement is trumped-up in an effort to cover up dirty dealings by Brian’s business partners, and there is more than a whiff of Mob involvement. The plot should have been thickening satisfyingly by this time, especially when it is plainly evident that Brian could not have killed his wife and partner; sadly, I had reached the stage of thinking ‘Well, Andy, is there any reason for me to stay awake to the end?’, for even when the real killer is revealed, despite not suspecting that dastardly bloke even for an instant, I still couldn’t generate the necessary enthusiasm and thoughts of ‘Woo Hoo – bring on the next Carpenter/Man’s Best Friend story!
Having said that (most disloyally), I will still look forward to Andy’s next adventure – I just hope it has more oomph than this one. THREE STARS.
Leader of the pack, by David Rosenfelt
Mr Rosenfelt is a very funny man. He is also a dog-lover, and in each of his novels about Andy Carpenter, sometime defense lawyer (Andy is a wealthy man; he can please himself when he works –why did I never have this choice!), Andy’s high regard for Man’s Best Friend is such that he clearly trusts dogs more than people, and rightly so: dogs never let their best friends down, nor do they betray them. Ever.
In fact, the boot is frequently on the other foot. Fortunately, Andy and his friend Willie Miller run an animal shelter, caring for and re-homing stray dogs. He has his own beloved dog at the home he shares with his wife Laurie, and life would be very satisfactory if it were not for the bad guys he is forced to meet in the course of his work – and some of them are very bad indeed.
This is the tenth Andy Carpenter thriller, and Mr Rosenfelt’s books are rescued from being formulaic by the credible plots, GREAT characters – Andy’s long-time friends are a delight – and sound research. He writes about what he knows – and he knows a lot.
In this latest novel, Andy is disquieted by the fact that, six years ago, he lost a case in which his client Joe DeSimone was imprisoned by a jury for a double murder: he is convinced of Joe’s innocence and it rankles terribly that Joe is in jail for life – purely because he has the misfortune to be the son of one of the big New Jersey Mafia bosses. Andy feels that the sins of the father have been visited upon the innocent son, but it is not until new information reveals itself from an entirely unexpected source that he can start gathering enough evidence to petition for a new trial. And you’ll never guess whodunit in a month of Sundays! Well, I didn’t anyway. Yep, there is a very satisfying little twist to the plot here, guaranteed to fool all but the Superhuman among us: Mr. Rosenfelt’s writing is pure entertainment right to the last page – even his page of acknowledgements is unique. He states that he had stopped thanking various friends several books back because he had been accused of name-dropping, but had decided to resume his ‘thankyou’ page because ‘like it or not, I move among the stars, and I’m not afraid to admit it’.
Here are a selection of names dropped:
Barack Obama, David, Butch and Hopalong Cassidy, Kim Jung Il, the entire Jung Il family, Daniel and Jenny Craig, Albert Schweitzer, Anne and Barney Frank, Harrison and Betty Ford, Vladimir Putin, Aretha and Benjamin Franklin, Charlie Sheen, Charlie Chan, Hannibal and Sally Lechter (Oh, sorry, I couldn’t resist, that’s one of mine!) Bruce, Spike and Robert E. Lee, Neil and Hope Diamond.
The man’s incorrigible! And mighty good fun. FIVE STARS