In 1892, parts of India are under direct British direct rule and Bombay is the center of British India. Captain James Agnihotri, an Anglo-Indian, is recuperating in a Poona military hospital after a skirmish in Karachi, the still unvanquished North-West Frontier. Agnihotri is granted an honorable discharge from the army because of his injuries. For one year he is reinventing his life as an investigative journalist by browsing daily newspapers and committing Sherlock Holmes detective methods to memory.
Meanwhile, a sordid crime grabs his attention: Two Parsi women fall from the busy Bombay University’s Rajabai Clock Tower in broad daylight! Certain that this mishap was not a suicide and touched by the understandable grief of the young widower Adi Framji, Captain Jim approaches the family to investigate this heinous crime and bring the culprits to justice. Being ex-Army, Captain Jim is well equipped to deal with treachery, roadblocks, dead ends, and deceit but there is more subterfuge to this plot than meets the eye! The warmth of the Parsi family is endearing to Jim and he approaches the task at hand with selfless sincerity. But there are no apparent clues and danger lurks in shadows of the guise of tall men with sloping shoulders, and possible monkeys on the roof. After interviewing local witnesses Jim travels to Lahore and to the state of Ranjpoot in search of the murderer. Armed with motley disguises this “Sherlockian” detective unmasks several miscreants and has close encounters with death himself much to the perturbation of Adi Framji and Jim’s self-appointed “Watson”.
This award-winning lyrical narrative is a delightful multilayered treat that lays bare the lonely childhood and yearning for a family of several young children of that tumultuous time. Jim Agnihotri was fortunate because he was brought up in a convent by a priest with “kind” eyes but what was the fate of the brave little girl “Chutki” who calls Jim “Bao-di”? Jim’s gentle nature and his loyalty to the task at hand has “ Sir Galahad” strokes! The reader empathizes with his post-traumatic stress disorder, boxing induced head injuries, and subsequent memory lapse. We also root for the success of the romance that brews between Captain James and the Framji debutante, lady Diana! But will the extremely exclusive Parsi elders accept this unlikely alliance between a Parsi princess and a “half-bred” man. Will Jim uncover the real motive behind the “fatal fall” or will this inquisition unravel another unimaginably evil plot to amass money for priceless merchandise?
I particularly enjoyed Nev March’s lyrical style with a vibrant depiction of the glittering Gatsby-like colorful lifestyle of aristocratic Bombay. Although the splendor of sprawling mansions, refined customs, luxurious soirees ignore the dismal fate of the Indian men and women impoverished by British tyranny, the wealthy sensibility is intoxicating! Formal sit down dinner times with delicious Parsi entrees, (eggs on a bed of Spinach, lamb curry) followed by frothy desserts leave me pining for my mother’s simpler but equally wholesome spread. March effortlessly transports me on a summer breeze to my childhood days spent walking the lanes of old Bombay fringed with Gul-Mohar, Jacaranda, and Pink Trumpet trees. Lady Diana’s inquiring mind and the amorous physicality developing ever so softly between the two lovebirds is pleasing. It recreates a delicate Victorian air of tension: pining eyes, a tilt of the head, delicate fingers, a sharp elbow, a curved clavicle, a soft embrace. I miss that magic and admire the ease with which the author transcends present-day to a mysterious past and solves the mystery to boot. Three cheers not by drib or drab but sheer grit! I absolutely love the cover design and We would be honored to invite Nev March to India Currents for a one on one interview.
Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Decatur Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.