Smoke and Ashes

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The fourth book on my Edgar Award Nominees reading project. No surprise, it's pretty good. It is the third in a (so far) four-book series, with number five coming out in July. Fortunately, it's not one of those books that depends on knowing much about what's happened in previous entries in the series.

It is set in 1921 Calcutta. The narrator, Sam Wyndham, is on the local police force. One night he comes across a grossly mutilated corpse! And immediately scarpers, avoiding the other incoming cops! Why?

Well, he's not at the location in an official capacity. It turns out that Sam, in the great British detective tradition, is a substance abuser. His substance of choice is opium, the crime scene is a sleazy den, and it wouldn't do for his superiors to discover this nasty habit.

Which is fine, except that another body soon turns up, mutilated in exactly the same way. And the body that Sam discovered seems to have vanished. Complicated.

Meanwhile, Sam is tasked with discouraging the locals from protesting India's colonial status. Coming up is the imminent arrival of the Prince of Wales, who's touring the various domains of the British Empire. Wouldn't do to have the Indians making a ruckus! Sam gets to discuss non-violent resistance tactics with practitioners (some actual historical action figures) (but not Gandhi).

In his investigations, Sam is assisted by his Indian sidekick, "Surrender-Not" Bannerjee. With the book's author having the name "Abir Mukherjee", you might think Wyndham could be caricatured as a total colonialist twit, and Bannerjee the actual crime-solver. That would be a cheap trick, and Mukherjee avoids it. Instead, Wyndham is freer from bigotry than most of his compatriots.

So the question is: what's going on? Who's doing these grisly murders, and does it have anything to do with the upcoming royal visit? (Spoiler: you bet.) Pulse-pounding finish!