Book name: Smoke and Ashes
Author: Abir Mukherjee
Format: Print, ebook, audiobook
Publication Date: 2018
Star Rating: 5/5
Smoke and Ashes is the third book in the ‘Wyndham and Banerjee’ series of murder mysteries.
The story is set in Calcutta in 1921 in the run up to a visit from the then Prince of Wales, later Edward the Eighth.
Sam Wyndham is hopelessly addicted to drugs. He is in an opium den one night when the place is raided by police.
The irony is not lost on this police officer, so he makes a run for it. However, he stumbles across a murdered man as he leaves.
The body has had both eyes removed and has been stabbed as well.
What surprises Sam is not so much that a murder might take place in an opium den as that the murder is not being investigated. He returns as soon as he can, but the body has gone.
He tracks the corpse to the adjoining funeral parlour. But no one is assigned to investigate the murder, and it seems that the murderer has simply hidden the corpse there.
Amid the run up to the visit from the Prince of Wales on Christmas Day, Sam and his Sergeant Banerjee are pretty busy. Yet still the corpse rankles with Sam.
A second murder takes place in an identical pattern, and Sam and Banerjee, who Sam refers to as ‘Surrender-not’, are assigned to that case.
The body is that of a married nurse of Portuguese origin called Ruth Fernandes. Her body has been moved, making investigation of the crime scene harder.
A third murder, also in identical fashion, convinces Sam that a serial killer with a bizarre determination to take the eyes of their victims and stab them as well is on the loose.
Smoke and Ashes was full of historical detail and the location was very vivid. The story was a little slow in getting going as the author had to establish location, character, history and the importance of the forthcoming royal visit.
This was in part because Abir Mukherjee brought real life figures from the Indian independence movement such as Subash Bose and Chitta Das into the story.
In that sense, Smoke and Ashes was a mixture of crime fiction and historical fiction.
Once the second murder occurred, the pace picked up substantially and from then on there was no lack of action or bloodshed.
The series isn’t exactly heavy on the police procedural, which is probably a good thing given that the reader is already grappling with so much else.
I love this series regardless of how much police procedural it contains. Sam is a likeable but flawed hero, and the honesty about the Raj that Abir Mukherjee brings to his writing is much needed.
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