Smoke And Ashes by Abir Mukherjee

Smoke And Ashes by Abir Mukherjee
Publisher: Pegasus Crime
Genre: Historical, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Captain Sam Wyndham and his sidekick Surrender-Not Banerjee return in this prize-winning historical crime series set in 1920s Calcutta.

India, 1921. Haunted by his memories of World War I, Captain Sam Wyndham is battling a serious addiction to opium that he must keep secret from his superiors in the Calcutta police force.

When Sam is summoned to investigate a grisly murder, he is stunned at the sight of the body: he’s seen this before. Last night, in a drug addled haze, he stumbled across a corpse with the same ritualistic injuries. It seems like there’s a deranged killer on the loose. Unfortunately for Sam, the corpse was in an opium den—and revealing his presence there could cost him his career.

With the aid of his quick-witted Indian Sergeant, Surrender-Not Banerjee, Sam must try to solve the two murders, all the while keeping his personal demons secret, before somebody else turns up dead.

Captain Sam Wyndham is a British officer in Calcutta’s Imperial Police Force in the early 1920s. Keeping his battle with opium addiction a fiercely held secret, everything begins to unravel on him the evening he barely escapes an opium den during an unscheduled police raid and discovers a murdered man on his exiting the building. With his police partner Surrender-Not Banerjee can they discover what’s really going on and manage to keep Sam’s secrets safe?

I found this to be an interesting and well plotted story. This is the third book in the series and while I strongly feel it can be read as a stand-alone, I equally feel most readers will find a lot more depth and interest in the characters if they begin at the start and read the series in order. That said I definitely believe the plot and mystery can absolutely be read intact in this story and no previous knowledge about the characters and their relationship would be necessary.

While this book is absolutely a mystery set in historical times, there is an incredibly tepid “romance” between Sam and Annie. I strongly feel this relationship is utterly superfluous to the story as a whole and I just don’t understand why the author doesn’t drop it. Indeed, calling whatever lies between Sam and Annie doesn’t really fit into the category of romance to my mind at all, considering there are only two or three scenes between them in the whole of this book and while they did date off stage between two of the prior books, certainly neither of them feel there is currently a relationship between them – merely history. Added to that I felt no chemistry, no meaningful connection or spark really between them so I just don’t really understand why the author continues with Annie being present in this story. I feel in most ways the book would be a lot stronger without this aspect to it.

In all other ways I found this story really strongly written and entirely engrossing. I enjoyed the fact that Sam and Surrender-not’s working relationship and friendship continued to grow stronger. I also adored Sam’s growing knowledge and acceptance of the historical British-ruled-India that the story is set in. The historical aspects and exotic setting really helped sell the series as a whole to be and I loved delving in once more. I was also impressed with the strength of the plot of the mystery itself. I feel the author is really beginning to find his feet with each book and his pacing was really on point for me.

Finally, I really enjoyed how Sam in particular is growing as a character. His opium addiction really came to a head in this story – partly forced upon him by circumstances in general, but I feel it was clear that Sam, himself, was also coming to the strong realization that he couldn’t coast along for much longer – that a firm decision either to get clean or to move on would be needed. I felt this aspect of the story was particularly well handled and I found it both realistic and satisfying.

Readers looking for a strong mystery/police procedural story set in a historical setting (1920s British-ruled-India) should find this enjoyable book is deeply satisfying. I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to future installments in this series.

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