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by Barbara Cleverly
Carroll & Graf, September 2002
288 pages
ISBN: 0786710594

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The Raj. The years when a thin line of British soldiers and civil servants controlled the entire subcontinent of India. The British lived a life of privilege and ease with servants to deal with every problem. The women, in particular, with no jobs to go to, spent days in amusements of various kinds and very possibly in boredom. This thin layer of Anglos rarely saw the Indians as anything other than servants or adorable sometimes naughty children except when something like the Indian Mutiny occurred and then, of course, they were terrified of them. The constant refrain was that the British were only acting as caretakers for people unable to govern themselves and certainly in fifty years they would be gone, leaving the Indians independent. The problem was that it was always fifty years away.

This is the setting of the mystery, The Last Kashmiri Rose. A young woman, Nancy Drummond, niece of the Governor and wife of the Panikhat Collector, has noticed something very frightening. One of the regiments stationed in Panikhat is the Bengal Greys. In 1910 the wife of one of the officers was killed in a terrible fire. Each year after that, in March, one of the wives died by a terrible accident. World War stopped the deaths but in 1922 Nancy¹s good friend Peggy Somersham has died, according to the local police by her own hand. But Nancy refuses to believe it and her uncle the Governor asks Commander Joseph Sandilands of the Metropolitan Police who has been seconded to the Bengal police for six months to go up to Panikhat and use his modern methods to discover what has been happening.

Joe with Nancy¹s enthusiastic help and the much more professional aid of an Indian policeman, Naurung Singh, interviews the husbands of the dead women, others who remember the time before the war, and noses around the sites of the deaths. They discover some troubling and alarming facts that lead to a solution to the deaths.

The plot is intriguing and the methods by which Joe does his detecting are fascinating. The story carries the reader along and involves her in the events of the investigation. I felt the ending was a little bit obvious, but then along came another twist that I had never expected. In every way this book kept my attention.

The picture of English life in the subcontinent in 1922 is very well drawn. The reader gets an excellent image of how protected, how delightful, and, had they known, how precarious that life actually was. Joseph Sandilands, as an outsider, sees this world much more clearly than its inhabitants. When Nancy tells him what people are doing to help the poor Indian tenant farmers, Joe remembers that the British originally took the land from the native farmers and gave it to landlords or zamidars in order to get their loyalty. He sees a little farther than the officers and their wives the dangers inherent in the British rule. He notices how the British, since the Mutiny, have played off Muslim against Hindu, creating a split where there was none and which might lead to disastrous results.

The characters tend to be rather two-dimensional, although Nancy is a delightful young woman and in an intriguing relationship with her husband, and Joe, very attracted to Nancy, is also fleshed out considerably more.

This was an intriguing book in large part because if the setting and time. The mystery was intriguing and while the solution may not have been too surprising, the events surrounding it were. I recommend this book.

Reviewed by Sally A. Fellows, September 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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