This novel begins with an interesting premise: Captain Jim Agnihotri, an Anglo-Indian officer whose English father is unknown, is in a military hospital recovering from injuries he received in a violent skirmish near Karachi. For a long time after being wounded, he does little but reread the cases of his hero Sherlock Holmes. Then one day, a newspaper article about a shocking event in Bombay—two Indian women from a prominent Parsee family fall to their deaths from the high clock tower—captures his attention. Adi, the husband of one of the women and cousin of the other, is quoted as saying he feels left behind. Which is precisely how Captain Jim feels about surviving the battle in which many of his men were killed.
On impulse, Jim approaches the grieving man and is hired to investigate the case. The ensuing months of digging for answers forces Jim to deal with the complex rules of the upper classes, the troubled waters of India’s political conflicts, and several physical dangers and endurance tests.
The mystery is interesting enough to keep the reader going. It takes a twisting path that goes in several unexpected directions. The characters are engaging; it is especially interesting that many of them are Parsee, an Indian minority I hadn’t encountered in fiction before. The setting is one I usually enjoy—I’ve read a fair number of Indian novels over the years—but I found that this novel didn’t feel quite as rich with sensory description as most of the others. Even so, I took enough pleasure in the book to give it a solid four-star rating.
I really enjoy well-written Indian novels. The country is so vast with an ancient history and a wide diversity of regions and peoples. A few years ago, I read and loved Alka Joshi’s first novel, The Henna Artist, the story of Lakshmi, a determined woman who fled a bad marriage and found a way to use her knowledge of herbal remedies and the art of henna painting to support herself, a servant boy named Malik, and the sister who showed up unexpectedly on her doorstep. (The premise grabbed my interest right away because when I was in my late twenties, I attended the wedding of a beloved Afghan friend and got to experience having my hand painted with henna before the ceremony.)
This week, I read The Secret Keeper of Jaipur, which is a sequel to the first novel. Set 12 years after The Henna Artist, it focuses on Lakshmi and most especially Malik. The novel grabs the reader’s attention right away; 20-year-old Malik is in Jaipur learning the construction business from the renowned Singh-Sharma Construction Company, which has been building a world-class cinema for the Maharani Latika of Jaipur. At the grand opening, a disaster occurs when the balcony collapses, killing several people.
The novel then backtracks two months to allow readers both to catch their breath and to catch up with what’s happened to Malik, Lakshmi, and her sister Radha in the intervening years. Malik is now in love with a young woman who is every bit as strong, self-sufficient, and determined as Lakshmi. She’s also a recent widow who comes from a tribe of nomadic hill people, and she has two young children. Lakshmi is not at all sure this is the right partner for her protegé.
Then there is the mystery of why the building collapses. Inquisitive, streetwise Malik is the only person who doubts the official explanation, and he may be the only one who can save family friend Manu Agarwal from unjustly taking the blame for shoddy workmanship.
I recommend the book highly, as I do its prequel. It isn’t absolutely necessary to read the two in order, although the second book does contain some spoilers for the first. (P.S. Isn’t the cover absolutely gorgeous?)
Readers’ Favorite Gives The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte the Gold Medal!
You have reached the author website of Ruth Hull Chatlien, author of The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte, based on the true story of Betsy Bonaparte, and Blood Moon: A Captive’s Tale, based on the tale of Sarah Wakefield, taken captive during an Indian war.
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The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte and Blood Moon: A Captive’s Tale may be ordered at Amika Press or Amazon.
The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte Blood Moon: A Captive's Tale
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