Date finished: 5-7-05
Author: Barbara Cleverly
Category: Mystery (professional)
In 1910, a late-night fire takes the life of Dolly Prentice, wife of an English solider in a calvary unit called the Bengal Greys. By 1922, five such wives have died, all the month of March. The latest is a friend of the Controller’s wife, who suspects her friend’s death wasn’t the suicide the police have been quick to dismiss it as.
She enlists the help of her uncle, the interim Governor of India, and he arranges for Joe Sandilands, on loan from Scotland Yard, to travel down to Panikhat to investigate. He quickly realizes these deaths were no accident and that some sadistic soul has been murdering these women via their worst fears (snakes, drowning, etc.) Much deducting later, Joe finds himself in the typical life-or-death situation, getting the guilty party to confess all and explain his or her actions.
This was my first foray — fictional or otherwise — into British India. Events are colored by history of mutiny in India and the aftermath of World War II, making me want to explore further into both. Cleverly sets the scenes quite nicely, drawing you in to India as it existed under British rule almost 100 years ago.
It takes a sick person to decide to kill people based on their worst fears. And it was a sick person doing it, but the twists kept coming as layers were peeled away to reveal the true motives behind the killings and modus operandi.
I left the story with more questions than answers about Sandilands himself. It never seems quite properly explained how or why he came to be in India. We knew he was providing training for Indian police, but was that the main purpose of his visit or just a sideline while he’s stationed there? Cleverly has two more books with him, so I’m assuming he wasn’t just in India for vacation. We got a little of his story and I’m interested to learn more.
One of the subplots involved Sandilands and Nancy, the Controller’s wife. I’m not sure what purpose it served other than to show us 1) more about Sandilands himself and 2) how mores differed in the colonies vs. England proper.
I liked it well enough to add Cleverly to my stable of writers and picked up the second book in the series the next time I was at the library.