A Book A Week Challenge – Week 48

The first historical fiction novel by M J Carter among the three books in the series of “Blake and Avery” narrates a rich paced crime fiction set up in British Company occupied India from 1837-1839. The book boasts itself as crime detective fiction based on the Thug crimes that occurred in India during the same period.

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Book #: 48

Title: The Strangler Vine” by M J Cartner

Pages: 402

The crimes occurred during the mid-nineteenth century in India at the phase where British Company’s dominance in India started to take a hit. There were increasing shouts for Swarajya movement and the phase aligned with change in Kingsman in London – Queen Victoria took over the royal chair. The company in India started to take multiple measures to dominate its presence and the way out is to create a panic among the natives that would disrupt the civil harmony. The company would then step in posing to act as the best last hope in protecting the Law and Order in the country.

These crimes often targeted at travelers where the gang of dacoits who apparently were marked as the devotees of Goddess Kali would acquaint them and travel with the parties. When they would believe that they had the confidence of the party, they use rumals to kill the travelers, often stealing anything valuable. The documentation of these crimes is much more evident in the cultural folklore than in the realistic facts.

The book is set up with the premise to manhunt a renowned poet Xavier Mountstuart, who published a novel that involved the corruption and surreptitious nature of Company. Two men – Blake who had his own share of controversies, having been removed from the post of Captain once and lost in the culture of natives was to lead the search accompanied by a young aspiration Avery who wanted to make a mark in the Company. Apparently, both were closely tied to Xavier either by his acquaintance or through his writing.

As the search continues, the book takes you through the cultures and traditions that were prevalent during those times, often not shying away from expressing the reluctance to these practices from the point of view of both foreigners. I would have personally opined to heard more dialogue between Blake and Avery, each taking opposite stance about the traditions that they experience from the eye of someone who is not native. But, as it turns out Blake is less vocal only to create the suspense that something is going beyond their designated pursuit.

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As it turns out to the case as we pass through the Company’s most renowned Major Sleeman who was known to have single-handedly brought the Thug crimes under control. There is a sense of secrecy and hence mystery that drives the curiosity to know what made everyone in Jubbulpore not to even talk about a renowned scholar. Then come the meeting and the revelation of conspiracy that lead to include only Blake and Avery who were not their first choices in the investigation.

M J Carter ticks everything on the checklist that needs to be included in a crime fiction and a historical novel. For Crime Fiction – Young man eager to go through the racks, someone who had enough of corruptness and wants to stay away but was always pulled in, a section of top level leaders whose interests are not ideal but aimed at money and wealth, the roadside murders and an investigative trail. For Historical lovers- the king who doesn’t want to let his kingdom go, the sacrifices and blind beliefs existing in the society, the caste, religious and linguistic diversity in the country. I am a bit surprised that there was no mention of any freedom struggle movement in Calcutta, which was very prevalent during the phase, if not in public resistance but the literature already took a stance against the brutal English company.

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Overall, “The Strangler Vine” by M J Carter- the first of three-book series “Blake and Avery” had enough content in it to be a very effective historical crime fiction novel based on infamous Thug crimes in Northen India. But, the book doesn’t keep up to its reputation of being compared to the likes of Sherlock Holmes and Fu Manchu. It is an absolute winner for historical narration but falls short of being an excellent detective thriller.  

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