I loved everything about this novel except for one thing, so I'll start with the one negative element and get that out of the way. For more sensitive readers, it may be helpful to know that this book does include an adulterous affair, and one engaged in not just by a minor character but by main characters. This book is something like what would happen if Madam Bovary met They Came to Baghdad, set in British Raj India. The sexual encounters are mercifully vague, and it turns out that there is actually a significant reason for the adultery, but the affair could have been completely cut out and the plot would be unchanged, so it's a trifle irritating that Cleverly stuck in an affair just to spice up a narrative that didn't in fact need spicing up. Additionally, the affair seems to have no negative consequences whatsoever and as a result seems to be the least realistic part of the book. However, because the plot, setting, pacing, and characters were so engaging, I'm willing to give Cleverly another chance and read at least one more of her books in the hopes that she doesn't make adultery (or worse) a habitual part of her novels.
For those who love the ancient Roman SPQR series, or Agatha Christie novels, this work will doubtless be very satisfying. Cleverly does a marvelous job evoking the sights, sounds, and smells of India. Her characters are likable and interesting, her setting is rich and vivid (like the SPQR books, complete with authentic period terms) and her pacing and plot are spot on. The story involves the fascinating premise of the mysterious deaths (always in March) of British officers' wives, all in subtle and seemingly accidental ways. About 3/4 of the way through, the murderer's identity is revealed, and I started to worry that Cleverly would let me down as a reader. After all, one isn't supposed to learn the murderer's identity until the final drawing room confrontation at the very end of the novel! But something about the murderer and his/her crimes was still so shocking and unexpected that the ending was still very rewarding.
What would Keats and Aristotle say? There is great beauty of setting, execution, plot, characters, and pacing in this novel. Other than the moral content weakness, this book is exquisitely entertaining.
- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Constable; 1 edition (5 February 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9781472111548
- ISBN-13: 978-1472111548
- ASIN: 1472111540
- Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2.5 x 20.3 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 181 g
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