This is an appealingly cozy and old-fashioned mystery, with the flavors, sights, and sounds of colonial India underlying everything.
It's 1892 in British-controlled Bombay, and Captain Jim Agnihotri is recovering in a military hospital from an injury sustained in the line of duty.
He becomes obsessed with an unsolved mystery he keeps reading about in the newspaper: two young ladies from the same household plunged from a clock tower to their deaths. Jim decides to set himself the task of determining what happened.
As he becomes involved with the family whose daughter and ward died, Captain Jim's endearingly strong sense of duty complicates his mission as he tries to save those in need and avoid becoming emotionally entangled with a smart young woman who is socially out of his league.
March's 400-page book is an immersive story, with the flavors, sights, and sounds of colonial India underlying everything. The story keeps a patient pace as Captain Jim uncovers clues, uses deduction, and emphasizes loyalty and moral purity. He is able to use his knowledge of different castes, British and Indian political machinations, and society to assist his investigations.
There are disturbingly dark issues underlying the mystery (including strict rules about caste and class, a deadly fear of scandal, and terrible mistreatment of those in lower castes, especially women). But Murder in Old Bombay largely feels like an appealingly cozy and old-fashioned mystery: as Jim works to unravel the facts, he dons elaborate disguises; there is a refreshing lack of violence beyond fistfight-level conflicts; and the forbidden love and romance are chaste and charming.
I received an advance copy of this title from NetGalley and Minotaur Books in exchange for an honest review.
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Nev March won the Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award for this, her debut title.
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