A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee – review

Published by Vintage

Publication date  – 4 May 2017

Source – own copy


India, 1919. Desperate for a fresh start, Captain Sam Wyndham arrives to take up an important post in Calcutta’s police force.

He is soon called to the scene of a horrifying murder. The victim was a senior official, and a note in his mouth warns the British to leave India – or else.

With the stability of the Empire under threat, Wyndham and Sergeant ‘Surrender-not’ Banerjee must solve the case quickly. But there are some who will do anything to stop them…

Read more on the Penguin website.

1919 and Captain Sam Wyndham has arrived in Calcutta. There to take up a new role in the police force, Sam is also hoping it is the chance to escape a loss from his past and to put the horrors of the war behind him. He’s unprepared for the colourful maelstrom that is Calcutta, with its mix of cultures, religions and language. Soon thrown in at the deep end, Sam has to investigate the death of a government official whilst facing political obstructions and revolutionary rumblings.

There is something wonderfully absorbing and transportative about Abir Mukherjee’s writing. Whilst I was reading I was in Calcutta in 1919. I could feel the heat, imagine the smells and sounds of a bustling city. The sense of decorum and reserve, of the stiff upper lip of the Empire merging and sometimes conflicting with rich cultural and relgious heritage of the local Indian population is almost palpable. The geography is portrayed in such a way that the reader can visualise the surroundings, the great rivers, poorer houses and imposing British buildings juxtaposed against the shrines and temples built before the Empire arrived.

The time period is not glamourised. The story is woven with the undercurrent of political and social uncertainty, a mixure of the result of the recently ended war, the rising resentment of the Indian population to the presence of the British and the sometimes overt racist overtones of those in power. Sam is a conduit to these, he’s an outsider and so is used to show the reader the tensions of the city and it’s residents and the social changes of the time.

It’s 1919 so of course there are no forensics, no fingerprint technology to help track down the culprit. Sam and Surrender-not have to use skill, tenacity and sometime  simply pure luck, to work out who the murderer of the government official is. The writing is skilled, quickly drawing the reader into the story, inviting them to make their own assumptions and conclusions as to the outcome of the investigation.

All the characters are well drawn, individual enough to stand out and each intregal to the story. Alongside the main criminal storyline another great part of A Rising Man is seeing the friendship and working relationship between Sam Wyndham and Surrender-Not Banerjee develop.

A Rising Man has been winning many awards this year and it is easy to see why. There is something refreshing about Abir Mukherjee’s Sam Wyndham, the writing is fresh, humourous and engaging  and the reader feels invested in both the story and in the characters.  Abir Mukherjee is a rising star in the historical crime fiction genre. This is the start of what I hope to be a long series and I’m looking forward to reading more tales of Sam and Surrender-not very soon.

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