Death in the East by Abir Mukherjee #BookReview #Extract #BlogTour

Calcutta police detective Captain Sam Wyndham and his quick-witted Indian Sergeant, Surrender-not Banerjee, are back for another rip-roaring adventure set in 1920s India.

1905, London.

When Bessie Drummond, an old flame of Sam Wyndham's, is attacked in the street, he is determined to get to the bottom of it. But the next day, Bessie is found dead in her room and Wyndham soon finds himself caught up in her murder investigation. The case will cost the young constable more than he ever imagined.

1922, India.

Leaving Calcutta, Wyndham heads for the hills of Assam, ready to put his opium addiction behind him. But when he arrives, he sees a ghost from his life in London – a man thought to be long dead, a man Wyndham hoped he would never see again.

Wyndham knows he must call his friend and colleague Sergeant Banerjee for help. He is certain that this figure from his past can only be after one thing: revenge...

I'm thrilled to be hosting the blog tour for Death in the East today and as well as my review, I have an extract from the book to share with you. Many thanks to Abir Mukherjee and Hope Ndaba from Vintage Books for inviting me and for sending me a copy of the novel.

I've been meaning to read Abir Mukherjee's Wyndham and Banerjee series for ages and I'm sure that those of you who are already fans of these books will know how much I'm kicking myself right now. It does at least mean that I can confirm that Death in the East can be easily read as a standalone - although obviously I'm going to read the previous novels as soon as I can.
Death in the East opens with suicidal birds which is certainly an attention grabber! Captain Sam Wyndham is watching the grisly spectacle in Assam and as the story unfolds, taking us back not just over the preceding weeks but also to Wyndham's early policing career we learn why he is here, both personally and professionally.
Wyndham has come to an ashram in Assam on the advice of his physician and is determined to kick his opium addiction. In the early parts of the book, the chapters set in 1922 focus on his unconventional but hopefully successful treatment. He puts on a rather self-deprecating front but it's clear that he's actually very anxious - of the process itself and how he'll react to it. It's certainly not pleasant but it does introduce him to his fellow European addicts, perhaps most notably a Jewish man, Jacob Adler.
As the narrative switches between 1922 and 1905, the attitudes of the British towards different religions, races and ethnicities is a constant theme. The young Constable Wyndham works in the East End of London where there is a large Jewish community, especially in Brick Lane. After the brutal locked-room murder of his former girlfriend, Bessie Drummond, Wyndham is on the hunt for a killer. Although set 115 years ago, it's striking just how little some things have changed, particularly when it comes to how keen people are to attach blame to a person based on their religious or cultural identity. Here it is the Jewish residents who are viewed with suspicion and outright antagonism, with the Press having an all-too-familiar role to play in fomenting and encouraging outrage.
The younger, less cynical Wyndham is perhaps more adept at contesting these parochial beliefs and prejudices and though the older man wryly observes the behaviour of the colonial British, it falls to Sergeant Banerjee to remind him of his own shortcomings, including his lazy reliance on that old British trick of using nicknames in preference to bothering to pronounce names correctly -  meaning he calls his friend and colleague, 'Surrender-Not' rather than Surendranath. He is more enlightened than many of his compatriots however, and it's his flaws and his willingness to at least try to change which helps make him such an interesting character.
En route to the ashram he spots a man he believed to be long-dead and though he hopes it's an Opium withdrawal hallucination, it's enough to trigger his memories, allowing us to switch seamlessly between past and present. His inexperience and ambition in 1905 eventually results in him being in a potentially deadly situation and it seems to be catching up with him again in 1922. Another death and another locked-room mystery eventually leads him to an intriguing moral dilemma. The solution to this death is particularly satisfying and it's fitting that a story set during this period should feature a perplexing mystery that would grace any Golden Age crime novel.
I loved Death in the East; the atmospheric sense of place is exceptional throughout making this book a vividly immersive experience and the social and political upheavals are a fascinating, deeply relevant backdrop to an intriguing, exciting mystery. Very highly recommended.

As promised here is an extract from Death in the East, taken from Chapter Eight, I really enjoyed the sense of foreboding engendered by the last few lines...

Mainly with the women patients, naturally, but also in the kitchens at times. She’s a real interest in things: from the running of the ashram to the preparation of the herbal cures.’
‘Careful,’ I said. ‘Next thing you know you’ll have her converting to Hinduism and I’m not sure her husband would approve.’
Shankar’s expression darkened. ‘No fear. She’s shown no interest in that.’
Through the window behind him, I saw Emily Carter cross the courtyard to where a large black car stood waiting. At her approach, a chauffeur exited the car with alacrity and quickly opened the rear door. She graced him with a smile then she lowered her head and disappeared inside.
The driver closed the door behind her, and made his way to his own seat. The engine growled to life and within seconds the car was heading for the ashram gates, throwing a halo of dust sky- wards in its wake.
With the memory of Mrs Carter lingering pleasantly in my head, and with time to spare before lunch, I left Brother Shankar and went off in search of the ashram library.
The room was larger than I’d expected, though what expectations I should have of an ashram library are still unclear to me. Three walls were lined from floor to ceiling with shelves of religious texts. There was something for everyone, assuming you liked your literature with a theological bent, from thick, hide-bound, hand-printed tomes with covers decorated with fine filigree detailing, to the flimsy, mass-produced, badly bound paperbacks that every book-wallah in Calcutta’s College Street sold by the barrow- load for a few annas each.
I wondered why Adler had suggested I come here. It was obvious I was no scholar of Sanskrit, and even if I had been interested in learning the Hindu holy texts, today was hardly the most auspicious occasion on which to start. Then I noticed that a few dusty shelves near the bottom of one wall contained a number of books in English, and to my joy, these weren’t even religious tomes. I knelt down, scanned them quickly and smiled. Towards the end of one row was a title I recognised. I wiped the dust from the spine. The Four Just Men. It was a detective novel published back in 1905. I knew, because I’d bought it the week it had come out. It had been a bestseller, not because it was any good, but because the author, Edgar Wallace, had left out the last chapter. Instead he’d advertised in the Daily Mail, offering £250 for the correct solution to the crime. Of course Wallace, like most writers, overestimated his own intelligence. For a start, the solution wasn’t that hard to figure out – as a young beat copper in the East End of London at the time, I’d managed it and duly wrote in to the Mail. More importantly, Wallace forgot to state there would be only one winner, so anyone who wrote in with the right answer was entitled to the money. The upshot was that Wallace went bankrupt, and seventeen years on, I was still waiting for my £250.
I picked up the book and walked back to the dormitory, lay on my bunk, and to the hum of prayers and the twitter of birds, I opened the book.
‘If you leave the Plaza del Mina, go down the narrow street, where, from ten till four, the big flag of the United States Consulate hangs lazily . . .’
I closed the book and placed it on my chest. It was strange how 1905 kept cropping up. Since arriving in Assam, it seemed as though an unseen presence was directing my thoughts back to that year: the figure at Lumding station; the memories of Bessie Drummond; the compassion shown by the Jew, Adler; and now this book.
The year I hadn’t been strong enough.
I felt I was reading entrails, portents of something ominous.
A religious man might have seen in them the hand of God or gods, and after all, here I was in an ashram dedicated to Kali the Destroyer. Was this all part of some supernatural reckoning? The past, they say, catches up with us all. Maybe it had finally caught up with me.

Death in the East is published by Vintage Books and is out today in paperback, ebook and audiobook. Purchasing links can be found here but please consider supporting independent bookstores whenever possible.

Follow the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author

Abir Mukherjee is the bestselling author of the award-winning Wyndham & Banerjee series of crime novels set in Raj-era India. He has won the CWA Historical Dagger and the Wilbur Smith Award for Adventure Writing, and has been shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger, and HWA Gold Crown. His novels, A Rising Man and Smoke and Ashes were both selected as Waterstones Thriller of the Month. Smoke and Ashes was also chosen as one of The Times’ Best Crime and Thrillers since 1945. Abir grew up in Scotland and now lives in Surrey with his wife and two sons.