Monday, August 31, 2009


I posted here that I was really enjoying reading Mrs D'Silva's Detective Instincts and and the Shaitan of Calcutta and now have finished this wonderful novel.

It is 1960, the British had departed India for over a decade but the young nation is struggling to find its feet.
Joan D'Silva is a 32 year atttractive widow, with a young 10 year son Errol to bring up, who lives in Calcutta where she teaches at Don Bosco's Catholic school.
A picnic for a group of Anglo-Indians at the shrine of Our Lady by the Hooghly near Bandle with social banter and delicious food is ruined when Errol finds the body of a young woman by the river bank.

The young woman Agnes Lal was a former pupil at Don Bosco's and had been married off to Xavier Lal, a much older very unpleasant character, who had not consummated the marriage.
Two friends of Agnes, Philomena Thomas, who works as a nanny for the family of the managing director of Guest Keith Williams an engineering firm, and Anil Sen ask for Joan's help to find out what happened to their friend.
But when Thomas James, GKW's factory manager is murdered during a riot Anil Sen is arrested and forced to confess to this crime.
Joan and her friend Philip, another school teacher from Don Bosco's, become dangerously involved in this investigation, while Dutta, the eponymous shaitan, leader of the Workers' Revolutionary Movement of Bengal encourages his "brainwashed" followers to create havoc in the city.

Author Glen Peters repeatedly lulls the reader into a pleasant comfort zone with recipes, polite small talk, descriptions of railway journeys, the charm of the Anglo-Indian community, social gatherings and Joan D'Silva's personal relationships.

But then he shatters your reverie bringing you back into the real world of Calcutta with its racism, murder, arson, prostitution, poverty, police brutality and enormous class divisions.

His characters are believable, sharply drawn, and range from the highly sympathetic to the venal and vile. His style is easy to read and the book beautifully produced by Parthian, although I would have placed the very useful and interesting glossary of Anglo-Indian words in use at the time at the front of the book.
This is a minor quibble as any book with a good plot, interesting characters and mouth watering recipes for Fish Molu, Lucknow Biryani and Ponga Kebabs on the cover and flaps is going to get my approval.
But "Mrs D'Silva" also has a good deal of history, political comment and social commentary about India and the Anglo-Indian community with even a Devon connection.

"I want my boys to understand a little about the great poet Tagore. Our literature curriculum is heavy on the likes of Longfellow, Yeats and Walter de la Mare but not a mention of India's most awarded poet," said Joan.
"Ah yes, Tagore was never quite understood by the British, despite his extensive tours to England, setting up Dartington Hall and being knighted. It was only Yeats who really appreciated him and he was Irish."

I hope this book turns in to a series because Joan D'Silva is a charming investigator in a difficult and different location, and I am sure Glen Peters has plenty more to say about the relationship between Joan and Philip, and India and her old rulers.

"Top of the social pile of course were the Shroves, who considered themselves superior Anglo-Indians because they were by far the whitest of the four families."

[Namaskar- a respectful greeting made by holding the palms of one's hands together.]


Blogger crimeficreader said...

Really pleased to see you loved this book Norm. I thought you'd like it! ;-)

One of 2009's little gems, I think!

I hope we get more too!

8:54 AM  

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