Constable (Dell for US readers), 2001
Reviewed by Sunnie Gill
It's 1922 and the setting is the town of Panikhat, 50 miles from Calcutta
in India. The wife of one of the officers of the Bengal Greys army
regiment has been found dead in her bath, her wrists slashed an in
apparent suicide. At least that's what the British chief officer of the
local police, Superintendent Bulstrode, thinks. There are those who don't
agree with him. In particular, Nancy Drummond, the niece of the acting
governor of the region. At her urging he calls on Commander Joe Sandilands,
who is spending a month in India teaching the police about the latest
methods of detection.
Joe reluctantly agrees to investigate with the help of Naurung Singh,
assigned to him by Superintendent Bulstrode who thinks the natives are
inferior beings. Bulstrode is an arrogant, stupid man who has missed what
Sandilands quickly discovers. Over the past twelve years, there have been
five wives of officers of the Bengal Greys who have died suddenly in the
month of March; all of those deaths put down to an accident. Every March a
bunch of Kashmiri roses is left on the grave of each of the women by an
unknown person. Sandilands doesn't believe that this is the work of an
Indian, but of a member of the British community.
Author Barbara Cleverly had the idea for writing THE LAST KASHMIRI ROSE
when she discovered an old trunk in her husband's attic, full of old
photos and memorabilia of a family who had been part of expanding the
Cleverly paints an interesting picture of life in India for military
officers and their wives. An enclave of British life "more British than
England" is cut off from most of the everyday lives of the Indians. She
has used Sandilands' investigation into the deaths to reveal the range
attitudes and social conventions that existed in this part of British
society in the 1920's: the older women conservative and rigid, the younger
wives embracing the social freedom that the 1920's presented.
I found the mystery to be absorbing until just over the halfway mark. But
then the author decided to add a romance between two of the characters
which seemed to stall the plot and make a diversion from the main thread
of the book. I'm not a fan of romance novels and so I found this to be a
little aggravating as the book seemed to lose some momentum after that.
The resolution was satisfactory, but didn't quite live up to the promise
of the early chapters. However, Cleverly has established a cast of
characters for an ongoing series and to date has published four books in
this series. Her latest book, DAMASCENED BLADE, won the Crime Writers
Association Ellis Peters Historical Dagger award for 2004.
Despite the reservations expressed here about THE LAST KASHMIRI ROSE, I
think this is a series that is probably worth persevering with.
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