Shortlisted for the Jhalak Prize and winner of the Telegraph Harvill Secker crime writing competition A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee is one of those books you just can’t put down. The first in a new series following the protagonist – Sam Wyndham – I fear I have stumbled across a new addictive series!
Mukherjee’s protagonist, a WW1 veteran and recent widow, is our narrator. We join Wyndham as he has just arrived in colonised Calcutta as a Chief Inspector whose first crime to solve is that of a burra sahib’s murder. Whilst Wyndham acclimatises to the heat and cultures of his new surrounding where ‘not just the water, pretty much everything out here seemed designed to kill an Englishman: the food, the insects, the weather‘ the reader experiences his flashbacks to the war and to when he meets his wife. We learn Wyndham’s coping mechanism with both PTSD and grief is with morphine. He struggles with this increasing addiction whilst attempting to solve his first murder in a new job in a new country with some highly political tensions.
During his investigations into the murder, Wyndham is accompanied by Digby – a man by all accounts who should have had Wyndham’s job – and a local man – Surendranath – but due to the ‘natural inability of many of the [British] to pronounce any foreign name with more than one syllable‘ referred to as Surrender-Not throughout. Wyndham investigates all avenues – some blind – some hidden in the quest to find out who was the murderer. Was the murderer’s motive one of the ‘holy trinity’ of motives (sex, money or revenge) or all three? You will have to read the story and find out!
I raced through the 400 pages in little under two days anxious to confirm my suspicions as to who the murderer was. Despite some of the twists and turns of this crime story being somewhat predictable this story goes far deeper than a mere crime fiction novel. Mukherjee’s descriptions of the impending independence of India is just as gripping as the murder investigation. References to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and the Indian’s shifts in loyalties to the British (following a shift in perceived moral superiority) is written with an incredible simmering urgency – one I expect he will later draw on in his later novels.
A nod to Kipling, A Rising Man is a well deserved candidate to the Jhalak Prize – creative, fast paced and clearly well researched. I suspect both Mukherjee and his protagonist – Wyndham – will continue to rise.
Recommended for: Crime Fiction lovers. If you liked His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet
Favourite quotes: “I awoke to what’s euphemistically called birdsong. It was more of a bloody racket, nine parts screeching to one part singing. In England the dawn chorus is genteel and melodious and inspires poets to wax lyrical about sparrows and larks ascending…The poor creatures, demoralised by the damp and cold, sing a few bars to prove they’re still alive then pack it in and get on with the day. Things are different in Calcutta. There are no larks here, just bug, fat greasy crows that start squawking at first light and go on for hours without a break. Nobody will ever write poetry about them.”
Thanks for reading – I hope you enjoyed it!