The Englishman’s Cameo by Madhulika Liddle

The Englishman’s Cameo
by Madhulika Liddle
Paperback, 281 pages
Published 2009 by Hachette India

Synopsis:

A poisoned paan, A non-government issue arrow And the cameo of a mysterious Englishman. Muzaffar Jangis that rare creature in Mughal Emperor Shahjahan s Dilli an aristocrat with friends in low places. One of whom, Faisal, stands accused of murder. When the body of Mirza Murad Begh is found stabbed in the chest, lying in a water channel in the Qila, poor Faisal is the only one around. But what of the fact that, minutes before his demise, the victim had stepped out of the haveli of Shahjahanabad s most ravishing courtesan? Could not the sultry Mehtab Banu, and her pale, delicate sister, Gulnar have something to do with the murder? Determined to save his friend, Muzaffar decides to investigate, with only a cup now and then of that new-fangled brew Allah, so bitter called coffee to help him. A trail of clues leads him from Mehtab’s haveli, out into the streets of seventeenth-century Dilli rife with rumours of Dara Shukoh’s strange leanings and Prince Aurangzeb’s rebelliousness into a conspiracy far more sinister than he had imagined…

In the 17th century Dilli (Delhi now; called Shahjahanabad then), around crumbling empire of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and with slight retaliations from his sons; Muzaffar, commonly known as Jang Sahib is living a peaceful and uneventful life until one day, one of his friend’s wife comes to his place and tells him that her husband had been arrested by the police for the murder of Mirza Murad Begh. Muzaffar, an aristocrat, has friends that other aristocrats can never dream or dare to have; friends from lowly professions. He justifies it by saying that he is more comfortable in there company than with high-class crowd. So, Faisal, a jeweler convicted of murder, is held in the Kotwali (police station) and as Muzaffar is sure of his innocence, figures out ways to find the real culprit and on the way stumbles into a conspiracy which would endanger his very life.

I bought this book from an exhibition solely based on the blurb. Having not heard of this at all, I was amazed that this was published last year and that too by Hachette, India and I had not heard of it. A murder mystery set in the 17th century (Mughal empire), with an amateur sleuth Muzaffar, sounded to me a right mix. Having read nothing like this before, I went it to with no expectations, as this was the author’s debut novel.

After reading the 1st few pages, about an Elephant fight, I was put-off, I do not like this kind of descriptions (animal- fights for enjoyment = cruelty), so I took a break and went in to read some reviews, which turned out to be negative. I, after that was not keen on finishing the book. Last month, I picked it up again… because I bought it, spent precious little money on it, I had to find out about it, right? And guess what, I really liked this cozy mystery. Muzaffar is a likable character who with his Brother-in-law’s name and reach (who is the Police in charge of the investigation), gets information out of people, easily. Once he gets into the middle of things, pure curiosity pulls him to solve it despite Khan Sahibs (Brother-in-law) objection.

When someone tries to kill him and he is injured badly, he knows there is more to this killings than what meets the eyes and gets more involved int he case than he intended to. This is a cozy mystery, with a lovely historical setting and some really good characters like Muzaffar’s sister, Khan Sahib, Akram and many more.

Though I really did think that the books title really makes it obvious that an Englishman is involved, if that was not there I would not have realized until the character were introduced an dit would have had a surprise effect, that would have been good. It is a light and fast read, and I am sure this will be a good series ( if the author intends to make it into series). She has a great setting and a lot of things can be made better, but I enjoyed it a lot maybe because I was not expecting it to be good at all. πŸ™‚

I hope you give this author a try, she has such good potential.
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  1. This does sound interesting — although I probably would have put the book down, too, once an elephant fight is described. Stuff like that is tough for me to read. I’ve never read a mystery, though, set in India — I might need to check this one out, but I also might skip the animal cruelty scenes…

  2. I’m not sure I could read about the elephant fights without cringing, but the rest of this cozy mystery sounds excellent. Great review as usual, Veens. πŸ™‚

  3. i might give this one a miss.. though the cosy mystery part sounds interesting,i am not sure.Wonder how you missed all the hype..I remember reading quite a few reviews just after it released.

  4. So glad to hear that the second time around was better. I think sometimes just timing plays a HUGE part in liking a book or not. Just like with poor Agatha Christie–I haven’t read many cozy mysteries but I really need to!!

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