Happy Friday everyone! I got Sophia Rose on the blog today with a Historical Mystery set in India , that sounds really fun and interesting. Hope you enjoy her exciting review below.
Death at the Durbar by Arjun Raj Gaind
Series: Maharajah Mystery #2
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on March 6th 2018
Genres: Historical Fiction, Historical Mystery
Format: Kindle Edition
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I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
December, 1911. All of India is in a tizzy. A vast tent city has sprung up outside the old walled enclave of Mughal Delhi, where the British are hosting a grand durbar to celebrate the coronation of the new King, George V. From across India, all the Maharajas and Nawabs have gathered at the Viceroy's command to pay homage and swear loyalty to the King Emperor, the first monarch of England to travel out to India personally.
Amidst the hullabaloo of the Durbar preparations, Maharaja Sikander Singh of Rajpore is growing increasingly frustrated, cooling his heels at the Cecil Hotel as he awaits the King's imminent arrival. Just as his boredom is about to peak, he is paid a surreptitious visit one night by a pair of British officers, who insist that he accompany them to the British Encampment. His curiosity piqued, Sikander agrees to go with them. Much to his surprise, they take him to the King Emperor's camp, where he an old school friend, Malik Umar Hayat Khan, who is also the Durbar herald, is waiting for him. It turns out that Malik Umar is working for none other than Lord Hardinge himself, the Viceroy of India and the highest-ranked Englishman in the country. He tells Sikander that his services as a sleuth are needed by King and country. After being sworn to secrecy, Sikander is ushered into the King Emperor's personal chambers.
Inside, a most unexpected surprise awaits him - a dead nautch-girl who appears to have been strangled. Lord Hardinge tasks him with uncovering the killer before the King arrives, and Sikander agrees to take the case. Faced with Malik's insistence that one of the British officers accompany Sikander on his investigations, and with far too many suspects and motives, Sikander, an admirer of Sherlock Holmes, puts his skills to work...and in the end, wishes he hadn't.
I was captivated by the fact that this was a historical mystery set in the waning days of the British Colonial era in India and the detective is a maharajah.
Death at the Durbar is the second book in the series and I didn’t realize until after I read this one which worked just fine as a standalone or out of order.
Sikander Singh is the maharajah of the fictitious Indian kingdom of Rajpore. His is one of the less powerful and smaller, but nonetheless he is expected by the Brits to be at their latest Durbar in honor of George V who is the first British monarch to actually visit India. Sikander is not impressed with the hoopla and is bored until he is brought to the Viceroy and practically ordered to look into the death of a dancing girl right in the royal enclosure at the Durbar in Delhi.
I found the strong mix of historical background and setting blended with the mystery was a heady combination. I admit that all the details about each Indian maharajah and their history, general history up to and including the British era could be considered ponder-some to many readers, but because I love history and was lacking when it came to Indian history that I ate it all up with eagerness.
Sikander was an amazing character. He can get autocratic and cranky, but he is also personable and understanding. He is not afraid to say and do what he must though he has the rep of being a hot head and one who speaks his mind. But, he’s also one who takes the time to think. There are moments in the story where other characters challenge him and he gives their words due consideration- will he support the Nationalist movement or British Colonial rule. The time is there when he can no longer stay out of the argument.
His situation is fascinating to me all through this book. I don’t know if it was authentic, but it didn’t ring false to me. This man is a wealthy, educated, traveled King of a minor kingdom and yet, when near anyone British, he is treated like a second class citizen or beneath them. Among his own people he’s king, but among Brit’s he just one of the natives. It was a stunning realization.
The author has an Indian protagonist so this book/series is a frank look at British Colonialism from one who was not a fan. I didn’t feel it went overboard as Sikander is portrayed as being a moderate in word and action though he would prefer the British went away and left India to its own devices. The time period is 1911 so Imperialism and Colonialism are actually on their last wheeze.
The setting was Delhi and the grounds used for the Durbar. It was lavish and I enjoyed the vivid descriptions that took me right there. The diversity of peoples and classes, the opulence of the Maharajahs, the entertainments of the period from balls to wrestling matches to moving pictures was all captured and made the story three dimensional.
The mystery is a little complex. I actually guessed somewhere in the middle of it all as people were being eliminated as viable suspects. It was the motive that I couldn’t fathom. There is a lot of interviewing going on and it was mostly a process of whittling down the suspect list which turned out to be a long one.
I enjoyed Sikander and some of the side characters. I enjoyed getting immersed in historical India so now I want to go back for the first book and press forward as the series continues. This had a feel more of historical fiction, but the mystery element is the catalyst so I think this would appeal to both genre’s lovers and particularly those who enjoy the combo of the two.
I rec’d this book through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.