Book Review: A Necessary Evil

It's 1920, more than an year after Captain Sam Wyndham solved the murder of a prominent British official, but as far as his personal life is concerned, he is still getting acclimatised to Calcutta, the city he had sought after in an attempt to forget his past. Sharing his lodgings with Surrender-Not Banerjee, a wealthy Brahmin boy who is also his subordinate at the Imperial Police, the unlikely duo hit it off very well despite the unusualness of the circumstances that would be doubtless frowned upon back in the day.

It's also a sort of refreshing Poirot and Hastings pairing in that the sergeant is more than a sounding board, as they bounce off ideas with one another in a manner that is a pleasure to read through. Not everything is about the case however, for Wyndham also has Annie Grant for company, a strong, independent Anglo-Indian with whom he shares an uneasy love-hate equation. It is, then, to Abir's credit that he complements the narrative with such well-drawn characters and beautiful writing, making it a journey completely worth taking.

At its heart, A Necessary Evil is all about a murder, that of a heir apparent of Sambalpore. But it is also much more than that, painting a picture of India in all its monsoon glory, at the same time extending a hat tip to the brave women rulers of Bhopal during the time period, in addition to neatly portraying the blow hot blow cold relations between British India and the princely states. That the author manages to inject all this historical discourse in the midst of a murder investigation lends it a very authentic touch.

"I believe your soul is that of a satyanveshi, a seeker of truth. Why else would you come to Sambalpore in the first place?," asks a character to Wyndham at one point, echoing India's own popular Bengali fictional detective Byomkesh Bakshi. It's perhaps Abir's way of paying homage to the iconic character who made his first appearance in the novel Satyanweshi. A tribute or not, what cannot be denied is its finesse and the very fact that it packs a punch - enough reasons why one shouldn't miss this novel for anything. Eagerly looking forward to the next!

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