Constable Crime (Constable & Robinson) - September 2002
ISBN 1841194816 HB
Mystery / Historical Crime
1922 Simla, India

Reviewed by Rachel A Hyde, MyShelf.com

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Last year Barbara Cleverly's first novel about Joe Sandilands, The Last Kashmiri Rose, was one of the treats of the genre, and her second book is every bit as good. Think Agatha Christie in the final days of the British Raj and you will come close. This novel seems to come straight out of that classic era.

Sandilands has arrived in Simla during the blistering heat of summer to be the guest of Sir George Jardine, the Governer of Bengal. He hasn't even got to the residence yet when his traveling companion, a Russian opera singer who is going to perform in Simla, is shot dead by a sniper. When he learns that an identical killing took place only a year earlier, Joe realizes that it is going to be something of a busman's holiday for him. When he discovers the truth, it will prove more bizarre than even he could realize.

Just like the first novel, this teasing plot has the added dimension of being set in a well-researched and unusual historical setting. In keeping with the style of a classic "cozy," you won't find lots of gory details or finely drawn psychological profiles, but if you like this type of story then this won't bother you.

The vaguely-sketched character of Joe Sandilands does his stuff well enough, but the detective needs to have a bit more to him than merely being good at his job. Maybe this will come in time. What remains is the feeling of having been immersed most satisfactorily in a bygone age of decadent and stylish ex-pats in an exotic setting, with political intrigue, high drama and even a touch of the supernatural. I certainly look forward to reading the next book, but I do feel that it will be a pity if it is set in Britain. The colorful setting of Colonial India is a large part of what makes these books special and unique.

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