A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee

A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee
Publisher: Penguin Random House UK
Genre: Action/Adventure, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Historical
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Fern

India, 1920. Captain Wyndham and Sergeant Banerjee of the Calcutta Police Force investigate the dramatic assassination of a Maharajah’s son, in the sequel to A Rising Man.

The fabulously wealthy kingdom of Sambalpore is home to tigers, elephants, diamond mines, and the beautiful Palace of the Sun. But when the heir to the throne is assassinated in the presence of Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant ‘Surrender-Not’ Banerjee, they discover a kingdom riven with suppressed conflict. Prince Adhir was a modernizer whose attitudes—and romantic relationships—may have upset the more religious elements of his country, while his brother—now in line to the throne—appears to be a feckless playboy.
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As Wyndham and Banerjee desperately try to unravel the mystery behind the assassination, they become entangled in a dangerous world where those in power live by their own rules—and those who cross their paths pay with their lives. They must find a murderer, before the murderer finds them . . .

This is the second book featuring Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant “Surrender-not” Banerjee and I was really, really pleased to find it as good – and possibly slightly better – than the first book, “A Rising Man”. Set in the British ruled India in the 1920s this is a historical book but written very strongly as if it’s simply a regular police procedural/mystery story. There’s no dense info-dumps about the time period or the setting of India in those times, no showing off about how much research the author has performed – just exactly what I (and I feel many readers) want, strong characters, excellent writing and a captivating mystery. It was refreshing and thrilling and still very strongly a historical novel as well.

I adored the balance the author found between showing the readers through the character and plots actions how very different 1920s India was from our current times without slowing down the plot or the pace. This is a very fine line and I feel the author did a really good job with it. I must admit there is even less back-story and historical explanations in this story than the first. I very much want to state that this second story can be read completely as a stand alone – but since I have read the first and have already taken in all the historical setting and explanations, the fact this book has slightly less description about the political and global situation India is in makes me wonder if someone truly picking this book up first will find it as enthralling as I have. Personally I feel it’s worth the risk – if I picked up this book and read it without having read the first I might go back and read the first (and then find it more enjoyable) but the main characters are very well explained and written, the plot is central only to this story itself and so I feel it would be an enjoyable read by itself.

I particularly enjoy the characters of Sam and Surrender-not. They’ve been rooming together and working in the police force as partners for a year now and so a lot of their professional relationship and personal friendship is quite settled, without either of them becoming complacent. Sam still has his opium issues and personal demons from the war. This is also quite well handled I feel making him relatable and vulnerable without being the main focus of the story. I also enjoyed the mystery feeling it and the setting of 1920s India made a refreshing and really interesting setting for a well written mystery story. I’m enjoying these enough I’ve bought the rest of the series and am looking forward to it.

Readers looking for a slightly different mystery book – particularly one with a different cultural or historical perspective – should find this a really good read.

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