A Necessary Evil

Written by Abir Mukherjee
Review by India Edghill

Calcutta, India, 1920. The British are trying to persuade the rulers of Indian royal houses to join the Chamber of Princes—an attempt at appeasing the growing demand for independence for India. One holdout is the royal state of Sambalpore; its crown prince is opposed to his country joining the Chamber. Also in Calcutta is Captain Sam Wyndham, formerly of Scotland Yard and now with the police force in India. Wyndham’s with Prince Adhir when he’s assassinated, and Wyndham winds up in Sambalpore trying to discover who’s behind the plot. This is far from an easy task, as many of the people Wyndham wants to interview are royal women living in purdah. But such secluded women couldn’t know anything about politics, or murder… could they?

Who killed Prince Adhir, and why? Was it the new heir to the throne? The mother of the prince who’s the next heir? The prince’s English mistress? A religious extremist? Or—surely unthinkable!—could it be someone in the British government? Entwining political and personal intrigues mean Captain Wyndham has too many suspects and not enough time to solve an increasingly deadly mystery, for the murders don’t stop with Prince Adhir’s, and Wyndham discovers that the clues lead in too many directions. And in almost all scenarios, uncovering the murderer’s identity will prove deeply embarrassing for those in power.

The novel has a great sense of time and place (be prepared to mop sweat off your brow from the heat!), a fascinating mystery, and an intriguing ending. My main complaint about the book is Wyndham’s odd inability to pronounce a perfectly reasonable Bengali name, so that his “Watson,” Sergeant Surendranath Banerjee, becomes “Surrender-not” Banerjee. This would be fine if “Surrender-not” were a nickname given for a heroic deed—but it’s not. However, the good things about the book outweigh that one irritation. Definitely recommended!