Shadows of Empire

Written by Alan McKee
Review by B. N. Peacock

Through London and Lucknow, Oxford and Cawnpore, Alan McKee’s third novel threads a labyrinth of past and present. Henry Booth has much to anticipate: honors at Oxford, marriage to his childhood sweetheart, Mary Sutton, and a career at Oxford. Then his uncle sends him the journal of his mother, who died at Cawnpore during the Indian Mutiny. Or did she? A student fresh from India shows him a picture of a woman who could well be Henry’s mother. And the journal—what secrets does it contain, secrets so potent two men are murdered and their deaths laid at Henry’s door? Henry finds help from an Indian doctor and his charge, lovely Umrao Devi. Umrao also seeks a murderer: the Englishman who killed her foster mother. As Henry reads the journal, the linkage grows between the murders, the two countries, and an Indian sect known as the Thugs. To his joy, Henry discovers his mother is alive and he has a brother. However, the murderer of then and now stalks them. Henry struggles to protect his mother and brother, and Umrao strives to protect Henry. But the past closes in, like the fog on Glastonbury Tor, overwhelming them all.

Actual photos from India’s past enrich Shadows of Empire. The story is sometimes regrettably slowed by passages of ho-hum dialogue, but otherwise McKee has written a solid book.