Set in old Delhi it brings back beautiful memories and a plot that needs to solved...soon.
A coffee-loving detective, a ravishing courtesan and an unsuspecting poor man and an ever lasting friendship. Madhulika Liddle's, The Englishman's Cameo set in Shahjahan's quaint Dilli is a refreshing and delightful read. Chandni Chowk and the Red Fort form the backdrop while the story revolves around Muzaffar Jang, an aristocrat in the emperor's court who tries to unravel the mystery behind the death of the merchant Mirza Murad Begh. Jang has another motive, his friend Faisal is convicted in the murder and Jang is not convinced.
The story takes us through the breathtaking landscape of Mughal History. We meet the sultry courtesan Mehtab Banu and her sister Gulnar, who are possible suspects in the mystery, the rebellious prince Aurangazeb, a conniving eunuch and of course many English men. The plot is intriguing and one cannot help but applaud the intensive research done by Liddle to get her facts right and paint her historical milieu alive.
It is quite apparent that Madhulika's previous foray into travel writing has helped her immensely. Her knack for seamlessly weaving historical trivia and stories into the murder mystery genre is commendable. The history is as important as any other character in the book, and the personification of Dilli is vital to the story.
The writing style is vivid and descriptive. The Red Fort, bustling market places, moon lit Yamuna and the traditional palanquins; the symbolic imagery of yesteryear Mughal court erupt alive. With the young and hot-blooded Muzaffar Jang following the trail to help his friend from being executed we have an Agatha Christie style plot in hand. The book is quick read, being just over 270 pages. The story finishes before one feels the toll of an overdose of history. However the voracious reader will definitely draw parallels with another Mughal novel, Timeri N. Murari's Taj set in the same time period. Though Murari's Taj was not a murder mystery, it gave history a new dimension. It was a study of society without the mundane accounts of battles and pressing need to remember dates. Madhulika Liddle has successfully attempted, albeit an amateur one to marry two lucrative and popular genres- historical fiction and murder mystery.
Kudos to the author for her brave attempt and for re- introducing us to the storyteller's paradise and always magical story of Kings, rebellious princes and beautiful courtesans.
Shakti is a 25-year-old freelance writer.