A Necessary Evil (2017) by Abir Mukherjee

Time somewhat ran away with me in December, so I didn’t get around to reading this book last month. So I decided to rectify this situation promptly in January, not least because I very much enjoyed the first book in the series, A Rising Man (2016).

This second instalment takes places in June 1920 and begins in Calcutta. Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant Banerjee are in attendance at an important civic function, with 20 of India’s princes meeting with the Viceroy, Lord Chelmsford. He is keen to initiate talks on a new scheme, the Chamber of Princes, an Indian House of Lords, which the establishment hopes will assuage those wanting Home Rule. Banerjee has been invited in particular by Crown Prince Adhir Singh Sai of Sambalpore, (a small but very rich state), as they knew each other in their university days. However, their reunion is cut short as during the car ride back to Adhir’s hotel, the prince is assassinated, minutes after he has mentioned some disturbing letters that he has received. With this murder case the question of who did it is quickly resolved, with the assassin uncovered the following day. Yet his suicide means there is little traces left of why he did what he did and more pertinently who he did it for. Wyndham’s superiors are keen for the case to be wrapped up, fearing what a more detailed investigation would bring up. Yet Wyndham finds information leading back to Sambalpore itself and with some assistance and economical use of the truth he and Banerjee travel back with the prince’s body to Sambalpore for his funeral. Once there Wyndham is determined to discover the truth behind his death. Little does he realise what his desire for the truth will lead to…

Overall Thoughts

Captain Sam Wyndham, as in the first novel, is the story’s narrator and likewise I still enjoyed his often cynical and sarcastic comments which are not only a coping strategy for dealing with a culture he is far from used to, but also provide a defence mechanism, of sorts, for his own emotional difficulties. Regarding the latter he remains enthralled with Annie Grant, despite her duplicitous behaviour in the first book. In fact, it is the financial recompense for such behaviour which now leaves her an independent woman. Couple this with her beauty and charm and it is not surprising that anything in trousers is enamoured with her, much to the chagrin of Wyndham.

Political obstacles once more hamper Wyndham’s investigation in this book, perhaps even more so, as the obstacles come from a greater number of sources. Equally there is the added pressure of other officials having already decided upon their scapegoat, which increases the urgency for Wyndham to uncover the truth. Knowing who to trust is a key part of the game and without giving too much away I would say Wyndham achieves mixed results on that score.

The case takes a while to take shape, as the leads are somewhat nebulous, and information is very hard to come by due to the various cultural and political barriers. I don’t feel this is a mystery the reader can solve ahead of Wyndham, as there is not the usual sort of clues to grapple with. Even for Wyndham the full truth of the matter only dawns on him after recollecting a stray remark. Wyndham is a seeker of the truth, but it is a difficult path he chooses to pursue, and I think the writer leaves us with an uncomfortable resolution, which perhaps reminds us of how little we can sometimes control things.

Rating: 4/5

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