In the far northeastern corner of India, on land near a border disputed by China, lies the tribal village of Jatinga. There, every year following the monsoon rains, thousands of birds dazed by high winds descend toward the village’s lights on foggy, dark nights. Local people, convinced they are spirits come to terrorize them, capture and kill the birds with bamboo poles. And that is a pivotal scene in the fourth book in Abir Mukherjee’s award-winning Wyndham and Banerjee series of historical mystery novels.
It’s 1922. Calcutta, and all India, is in turmoil because of the general strike called by Mohandas Gandhi. The British Raj is under attack, and anti-colonial sentiment is on the rise. Yet Captain Sam Wyndham has traveled to Assam to a Hindu ashram located near Jatinga to kick the opium habit he acquired while recovering from wounds he suffered in World War I. But no sooner has he arrived in the region than he spots the familiar face of a man he had long believed to be dead—a murderer Sam had pursued in London, early in his career with the police. The man had tried to kill him.
Death in the East (Wyndham & Banerjee #4) by Abir Mukherjee (2020) 429 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)
A critical episode from the backstory in the Wyndham and Banerjee series
In A Death in the East, then, Mukherjee deftly shifts the scene back and forth from 1922 to 1905. He relates the events in that earlier year that led him into collision with the face at the train station in Assam seventeen years later with Wyndham’s experience at the ashram as he suffers through the opium cure. And when the bodies start falling in Assam, we can depend on Wyndham and his brilliant Bengali sidekick, Surendranath (“Surrender-not”) Banerjee, to disentangle the particularly knotty connection between the events in both years. Expect not one but two locked-room mysteries before the case is solved. A Death in the East isn’t the best of the books in the Wyndham and Banerjee series, but it’s well worth the time for the light it casts on the shifting relations between the colonialists and the colonized.
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