The second Superindentent Le Fanu Mystery sees our intrepid British policeman on the trail of the murderers of an Indian Rajah. Under pressure from his superiors, pining for his lost love and allergic to the sight of blood, Le Fanu must navigate through a political mine-field of colonial intrigue in 1920s Madras. As the British tighten their grip on the sub-continent, Gandhi’s peace movement, British secret agents and armed pro-independence rebels complicate Le Fanu’s investigations further and he soon finds himself in a quagmire of violent opposing forces that are unwilling to compromise.
Last year’s introduction to Superintendent Le Fanu and his capable assistant Habi, courtesy of Brian Stoddart’s excellent novel – A Madras Miasma, was a breath of fresh air as far as my reading was concerned. I visited 1920’s India and the turmoil experienced by the British Raj as sovereign rule came under increasing pressure from Gandhi and his supporters agitating for change.
The second in the series – The Pallampur Predicament – continues with our policeman and his team investigating the murder of the Rajah of Pallampur.
We have our murder and a posse of potential suspects - the Australian wife who was playing away and doesn't appear particularly upset at his demise, her lover and a couple of other businessmen who crossed swords with the Rajah. Le Fanu’s investigation soon flounders in murky waters, clouded further by the presence of British agents and a possible link to arms smuggling, Chinese gangs and the IRA.
I think the mystery element of the book contributes only about half of my enjoyment with the other half courtesy of Stoddart’s depiction of Le Fanu, trying to police in a society on the eve of momentous change, however hard the British hierarchy try to pretend otherwise.
Le Fanu is a decent man and enlightened enough - partly from life experience in the war and partly from a natural intelligence - to judge a man on his abilities as opposed to the colour of his skin. His willingness to embrace the country, the people, their cuisine, their women – in his choice of a lover, immediately casts him as suspicious in the eyes of most (not all) of the British expatriate community whether part of the ruling elite, the business fraternity or the press. This desire to be his own man in spite of the consequences makes for an intriguing read.
Habi’s gentle teasing of Le Fanu throughout, in particular his difficulties interviewing beautiful women and his own personal situation with his lover, Ro back in town for a visit adds another element to an already enjoyable mystery.
Wit, humour, a genuine mystery, a history lesson, race and politics – a decent blend of elements all expertly intertwined in just 270 short pages. Recommended.
4 from 5
My review of A Madras Miasma is here.
Brian Stoddart – currently writing the next in the series, as I type – has his website here.
My copy came courtesy of the publisher – Crime Wave Press. Cheers!
CWP publish mysteries with a mainly Asian bent. Check them out here.