Goodreads blurb: A serial killer is terrorizing Dilli and Mughal nobleman and detective Muzaffar Jang might have finally met his match.
In the spring of 1657, the Mughal armies have reached the Deccan, besieging the Fort of Bidar. Back home in Dilli, there is unrest: the empire seethes and stirs, and its capital reflects this turbulence. Muzaffar Jang, newly married to his beloved Shireen and trying to adjust to life as a husband, stumbles into the investigation of a merchant’s murder. Even as another crime – the kidnapping of a wealthy moneylender’s infant son – occurs, Muzaffar finds himself at odds with his brother-in-law, Khan Sahib, the Kotwal of Dilli.
Things get increasingly puzzling as one murder follows another and, soon, it is clear that the streets of Dilli have a serial killer on the loose. Muzaffar, who soon finds himself at odds with the system as well as those closest to him, must follow his gut to unmask this audacious murderer, while trying to obey Khan Sahib’s warning: do not get in the way of the law. But has he finally bitten off more than he can chew?
The first thing that strikes you about this book blurb is that it deals with a series of murders set in the Delhi of Mughal times, even before Aurangazeb, and the fact remains that while it remains to write a credible crime thriller set in contemporary times, the difficulty of writing a book in this genre set in a period of which the author has only ‘theoretical’ knowledge of makes it all the more interesting. And trust me when I say this, Crimson City by Madhulika Liddle does not disappoint either on the authenticity front (in that it is set in the Mughal period) or on the crime thriller front (in that it is an extremely competent book in this genre).
Although this is the fourth book in the Muzaffar Jang series, it can very easily be read as a standalone book like I did without readers missing out on any continuity of the characters etc. The author throws in more than quite a few subtle hints at the beginning of the book with regard to the main protagonist, Muzaffar Jang, his abilities, his reputation, his strength of intuition and perseverance to follow up on problems until he resolves them, etc. And the best part of it is that these hints are so subtly hidden in the narrative flow that they don’t quite come across as irritants and serve only to enhance the overall reader experience.
Muzaffar is newly married and is settling down into marital bliss quite well when he stumbles upon the murder of a cloth merchant. One thing leads to another and pretty soon he finds himself in the thick of the action as a series of murders occur in Delhi. Although he is asked to stay away from ‘official police work’ by his mentor and brother-in-law who happens to be the ‘Kotwal’ of Delhi, his inquisitive nature and a series of co-incidences manage to keep Muzaffar involved with these crime investigations.
Forming perfect foils to his inquisitive nature are his new wife Shireen who proves to be the best sounding board that Muzaffar could ever have akin to the role that Dr Watson plays in Sherlock Holmes mysteries, albeit strictly from the background unlike the good doctor. With each conversation they have about the murders, Muzaffar’s faith in his wife’s abilities, intuition and general good sense is proven right, so much so that she ends up playing a reasonably critically active role at the very end of the book. And Akram, Muzaffar’s old friend from earlier mysteries also ends up playing quite an active role in the proceedings as well. All in all, Madhulika builds up the narrative with quite an interesting mix of characters, all of whom stand out on their own reasonably well.
In a nutshell, buy this book if you like well written period books, especially in the crime thriller genre.
A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers in return for an honest and unbiased review of the same.