Muzaffar Jung is a young umrao in Emperor Shahjahan’s court. Progressive in his thoughts and actions, he has friends among Delhi’s lower class. When one of his friend is accused of murder of Mirza Murad Beg, Muzaffar starts his own investigation which takes him to palace of Mehtab Banu, a stunning courtesan and her frail, beautiful sister Gulnar. When Mehtab is also killed, Muzaffar finds himself deeply entangled.
I have always wondered why there are no series by Indian authors that emulate fictional detectives like John Rebus or Martin Beck. Surely India has no dearth of talented authors and with its varied and millennia old culture, vast Diaspora and complex socio-political issues, India is an ideal breeding ground for the kind of mystery as a genre that has virtually exploded in last two decades especially in Scandinavian countries. Therefore, when I read about Madhulika Liddle’s Muzaffar Jung series, I was pleasantly surprised.
Set in 1656, Muzaffar is an aristocrat in Mughal emperor Shahjahan’s court. Unlike other aristocrats, Muzaffar mingles with lower classes and has friends in unlikely places. When one of his friends, Faisal is accused of murder, Muzaffar, convinced of Faisal’s innocence, begins his own amateur investigation.
What I liked about the book –
Liddle has chosen very interesting set up for her series. A Mughal aristocrat turning into an amateur detective is a novel idea. Liddle is certainly enamoured by that period of Indian history and her love for it shows in her writing. Her rendering of times and different classes of people of that era is succulent. Delhi (or Dilli as it is locally called) under Liddle’s pen is alive and throbbing. She describes Dilli’s architecture – its Havelis in minute detail. The lifestyle of ravishing courtesan Mehtab is illustrated with all its glory and grandeur. Her language, laced with lot of Urdu words creates feel of the era. (However, this may be a problem for non-Indian readers)
What I did not like –
The mystery element was weak. There was lot of activity and many red herrings but they did not add to suspense. My biggest complaint is that the motive for murder was not strong enough. Author kept many threads dangling. Everything wraps up conveniently in the end, yet I had a feeling of incompleteness.
Irrespective of my misgivings, The Englishman’s Cameo is a promising beginning. I sincerely hope that next books in the series are as high on mystery quotient as they are on language and setting.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your time.
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