Crimson City by Madhulika Liddle is the 3rd book that I read as a part of my September #TBR. And what a brilliant read I must say! From the beginning, the story is like a maze. And such a complicated maze that even the best of crime fiction readers won’t be able to bust the climax of the story. And out of the three books by Liddle that I have read in September, Crimson City turns out to be the best one of the lot.
It is 1657, Shahjahanabad, and Mughal Empire is brimming with tension. Mughal armies are fighting in Deccan and are not doing so well. On the other end, city Kowtali is trying their best to keep the criminals at bay since they have found new levels of audacity to commit a crime. On one such assignment, Muzaffar Jang, newly married and settling down with Shireen, accompanies his brother in law and Chief of Kotwali Khan Sahib to a crime scene. A regular merchant, Aadil has been murdered, stabbed with a knife but nobody is able to understand the motive since nothing has been missing from his inventory or other valuable items. However, some papers have been moved here and there as if the killer was trying to find something in them.
A few days later, a local moneylender is threatened that his son will be kidnapped if he doesn’t arrange ransom. And soon, the child is taken away. Jang, as always solves the crime with his devil lies in details attitude and manages to get back the child. But the outcome of this success is something which Jang never expected. Instead of a pat on the back, Khan Sahib asks Jang to step away and stop interfering in Kotwali’s business.
But solving crime always attracts Muzaffar, and even if he tries to stop himself, his wife Shireen convinces him to get into it on humanitarian grounds. And coincidentally, next crime takes place where Muzaffar and his friend Akram, go for Hamaam. The owner of the Hamaam Abdul Jabaar Khan commits suicide, which Muzaffar concludes has only been staged as a suicide, but in reality is cold blooded murder. And before Muzaffar could work on Abdul Jabaar Khan’s case, another one bites the dust. The previous victim Aadil’s neighbor, Basharat is also found murdered the same way Aadil was killed . And then, when Muzaffar tries to team up with Basharat’s brother Parvez to solve this complicated web of crime, Parvez becomes the third victim of the serial killer.
With 4 murders and a brother in law who doesn’t want Jang to interfere in Kotwali’s business, will Muzaffar be able to solve the mystery behind this serial killer without pissing off Khan Sahib? Will he able to stop the serial killer who is on a rampage to finish anyone who comes in his way?
From the very first page, Crimson City will grasp your attention. Madhulika Liddle has raised her game with Crimson City by introducing a serial killer into the story. The stakes are pretty high for Jang this time, and even he doesn’t leave any stone upturned to get to the bottom of things. And this time, Liddle has also struck a cord with readers on the issues of communities & religion, Hindu vs Muslim that prevailed during Mughal era as well. Muzaffar being the liberal one doesn’t believe in boundaries created by religion. His faith in community and harmony is challenged a few times in the story which is something that we still face these days. His response to such situations is pretty insightful.
Another new thing about Crimson City is Muzaffar’s marriage to Shireen. And when you meet Shireen, you realize that he made a right choice. In Crimson City, Shireen also shows some intellect towards breaking down bits and pieces of information that Muzaffar shares with her and coming to conclusions logically. She is the one who pushes Muzaffar to get into the cases even when Khan Sahib has strictly asked him to stay away. It’s like she’s Muzaffar’s new motivation, a companion with whom he can share his cases and expect logical reasoning.
Also, Crimson City is the most complicated story out of the three novels by Liddle I read in September. And by complicated, I mean it in a good way. As soon as you think that the crime is about to be solved, another complication or detail comes your way that you can’t just shrug off. Crimson City has such an aura that it keeps you hooked till the end. From getting the Mughal era facts straight to mixing it up with a delicious twist, Liddle has managed to make me fall in love with her writing again. Hardly anything went wrong with the Crimson City and I simply enjoyed it.
All in all, if you are looking for some really good crime fiction with a Mughal twist, I will highly recommend Jang series. The series has everything that a good crime fiction requires. And by the end of it, you will fall in love with Liddle and our home grown Sherlock, Muzaffar Jang.
Looking forward to next Muzaffar Jang adventure now.