Book Review: A Rising Man

"When you think you've seen it all, it's nice to find that a killer can still surprise you," muses detective inspector Captain Sam Wyndham very early in A Rising Man. After all it's been barely a week since he has landed in Calcutta after servicing his country during World War I. A war that left him disillusioned, scarred, and most importantly, alone and no-one to turn to.

But to be assigned to investigate the murder of a high-profile British official in such a very short span of time in a far-off, unknown terrain makes him feel like a fish out of water. Surviving the torrid heat in a tropical country like India in April is one thing, but what if the investigation puts your life in jeopardy? And that too by your own countrymen?

Thankfully he has Surendranath Banerjee by his side, an Indian sergeant torn between his belief in the British justice system and the Empire's repression of his own people. And it will be up to this unlikely duo to unravel the baffling mystery against all odds. Set against the backdrop of colonial India in 1919, Abir Mukherjee deftly interweaves fact and fiction to deliver a top-notch historical police procedural that virtually transports the reader back in time, all the while taking a fascinating look at the policies the British used to divide and rule the nation and the political, racial and social tensions that pervaded it.

Relevant extract:
How d’ye suppose one hundred and fifty thousand British keep control of three hundred million Indians? 
Moral superiority... For such a small number to rule over so many, the rulers need to project an aura of superiority over the ruled. Not just physical or military superiority mind, but also moral superiority. More importantly, their subjects must in turn believe themselves to be inferior; that they need to be ruled for their own benefit. 
‘It seems everything we’ve done since the Battle of Plassey has been with a view to keepin’ the natives in their place, convincing them they need our guidance, and our education. Their culture must be shown to be barbaric, their religions built on false gods, even their architecture must be inferior to ours. Why else would we build that bloody great monstrosity the Victoria Memorial out of white marble and make it bigger than the Taj Mahal? 
‘Christ we don’t even let facts get in the way if it might harm the image we want to maintain. Take a look at any Indian primary school atlas. They put Britain and India next to one another, each takin’ up a full page. We don’t even show them to scale, lest little brown children realise how tiny Britain is compared to India! ‘The problem, Captain, is that over the last two hundred years, we’ve come to swallow our own propaganda. We do feel we’re superior to the bastards we rule. An’ anything that threatens that fiction is a threat to the whole edifice...