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After reading Barbara Cleverly's 'Tug of War' which I borrowed from the library, I decided to start reading the Joe Sandilands series in order - as a fan of historical fiction and crime mysteries, and the 1920s in particular, these books intrigued me, and that's how I came to read 'The Last Kashmiri Rose', which is actually the writer's first ever novel - and a highly acclaimed one, being named one of the best crime thrillers of 2002 by the New York Times.
The book, set in India in 1922, features Commander Joe Sandilands of Scotland Yard who, while on secondment in India, is called in by the Governor of Bengal to investigate a series of mysterious deaths of wives of officers from the Bengal Greys regiment. The situation as Sandilands finds it is that every March for the last five years, the wife of an officer from the Bengal Greys regiment has died in what had been written off as accidental circumstances. The latest woman to die was a close friend of Nancy, the niece of the Governor, who refuses to accept the official verdict of suicide and insists her uncle call in Sandilands.
Sandilands' task is to work out whether the deaths are actually linked, or if they are just coincidences (unlikely to turn out to be the latter or it wouldn't be much of a book eh?!) - and to prevent any more deaths.
As the first Sandilands book in the series, The Last Kashmiri Rose also gives us an introduction to the detective, and indeed this is done skilfully, not overloading the reader with masses of information about his background all at once, but sprinkling it here and there to keep you interested and to enable you to understand his character. He is a likeable man, a hero from the First World War, and a man of integrity and compassion. The rest of the characters are well-drawn and believable, and I believe that the author has done well at capturing the speech and expressions of the time.
I can't pretend to know much at all about India or the Raj period, but it seemed to me that the author really got in touch with contemporary attitudes (which were shocking really, but this does make it seem realistic in my view, rather than imposing modern values on a novel set nearly a century ago). Her descriptions of the culture, sights and smells in India made the scenery very real to me, and I was able to picture everything she described with ease - and I find this important in a mystery so you can keep up with the hints and clues that are being thrown at you.
I have to say I didn't manage to work out who did it or why before it was revealed (but then, I rarely do!), but if you are better at mystery-solving than me, the author does seem to give you all the clues needed to solve it (I realised in retrospect); there is none of this revealing-totally-new-facts-at-the-end that some writers resort to, which makes it impossible for the reader to work out the solution. When the culprit was revealed, I was slightly disappointed because there were still a fair few pages left and I thought they were going to be filled with some clichéd ending, but in fact - there is a twist and the ending left me very satisfied! All the way through actually, I was really itching to know how it turned out because it was such an intriguing and unusual storyline and the final solution was certainly believable.
Although the book features several deaths, there is nothing too gory or graphic about the way they are treated: this book is more of the 'cozy crime' genre made famous by the likes of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers, than a blood-and-guts/nightmare-inducing thriller. So if, like me, you prefer a 'gentler' mystery, Barbara Cleverly's books may be right up your street.
Something that I found a bit strange was that Sandilands has a 'Eureka moment' about various people around him and their hidden agendas which took me a little while to understand as it's slightly cryptic, and I think this could do with being spelt out at the end to tie things up nicely. But it wasn't actually to do with the main plot of the mystery so it wouldn't spoil it too much if it didn't jump out at you.
There is a romantic sub-plot which is a bit predictable, and which I sometimes found slightly annoying, but it doesn't take away from the story although I wondered how realistic it would be for the time in which it's set.
All in all, I'd definitely recommend this if you like historical fiction and/or mystery novels. I'll certainly be looking out for more in this series.