Book Review: A Very Pukka Murder by Arjun R Gaind

Indian historical crime fiction is on a rise. And before reading A Very Pukka Murder by Arjun Raj Gaind, I was only aware of Madhulika Liddle who ventured and turned out successful in this area of writing. But A Very Pukka Murder, this deliciously twisted dish of a novel will keep you guessing the secret ingredient and you can’t have enough of it! This pure delight of a crime novel is absolutely amazing, and you will find out soon why.

First of all, let me introduce you to the protagonist of A Very Pukka Murder. Maharaja Sikander Singh of Rajpore who is unlike any other Crown Prince of his age and stature. He reads, he doesn’t get involved with petty nautch girls and loves a mystery more than luxury cars and beautiful women. After a period of slow and easy to solve cases, he comes across a deliciously twisted one, the murder of Major William Russell, the English Resident of Rajpore who is found dead in his bed the morning after New Year’s Ball.

Even though many believed that Major Russell was a pukka person, someone who won’t diverge from his habits and work while solving the mystery Maharaja comes across details so shocking that even he starts thinking, do we really know the people around us? And even though Major Russell was able to hide his secret habits, who would have killed him?

Is it Magistrate Lowry who was first on the crime scene and was known to follow Major like a pet dog? The Munshi Ram, who kept records of Major’s estates and where he spends his money, side by side fleecing him as well? Captain Fletcher, who was seen to have heated arguments with the Raja the night he was murdered? Or is it Lieutenant Bates, who almost tried to kick Major’s Rusell’s ass at the New Year’s Ball when he caught him red-handed trying to force himself on Mrs. Bates?

But the list of suspects doesn’t end here. The way Major Russell was murdered brutally by poison, there’s Jane, his housekeeper who was found almost dead, barely breathing near his house. She had the same poison that Russell had, and she survived to tell the tale to Maharaja. There’s Gurung Bahadur, the fearless Gurkha who had a personal vendetta to finish Major Russell, but poison is not the choice of Gurkhas, is it? They prefer to kill slowly and painfully, all the time looking into the eyes of their victims.

Or is it Mrs. Bates herself, who is trying to play the victim card when actually, she had a personal motive to fulfill through Russell? Seven suspects, each of them either had a motive, personal vendetta or personal favors to gain from Major Russell. But who would have the desire so powerful that overcame them and made them give Russell a powerful poison that turned and froze his body into a grotesque, unimaginable form!

And not just the suspects, but other obstacles created by the Englishmen may lead you to believe that you have figured out who killed Russell. Lowry gets Russell’s body cremated as soon as he gets the chance, Superintendent Jardine is like a pain the ass for Sikander, but don’t be fooled. The one who killed Russell will leave you shocked for a few minutes.

As the clock starts ticking, Sikander must overcome all obstacles, false trails and the growing hostility of the English establishment, all the while learning scary and alien secrets about Major Russell. Will he be able to work the mystery out before English shuts down his investigation to cover up the hideous truth behind the murder? Guess for that, you have to read this brilliant book!

You know it always happens to me, that when I read a really great book I fall short of words. And it’s happening again now. First of all, I loved the background and detailed sketch of each of the characters. It was like a peep into the past, the year 1909 when Britishers had slowly started annexing states for their own profits. I also loved how the book was executed, especially how each of the suspects had something personal to gain from Russell’s death. The plot line in placing all the characters at the right time of the death makes A Very Pukka Murder a more Pukka deliciously twisted read!

When I started reading A Very Pukka Murder, a thought came into my mind that why would a Maharaja get involved in solving murder mysteries? And very stylishly, the protagonist answered that Russell’s murder was well timed and perfect opportunity- since he has surrendered most of his authority to the British and was fatally bored! I absolutely loved Maharaja Sikander Sigh’s attitude throughout the story.

Since A Very Pukka Murder is the first part of a trilogy featuring the sleuthing prince, I believe that Arjun Raj Gaind has made a concrete start towards the upcoming two novels. There’s perfect research, perfect timing of introducing the suspects and a perfect plot that simply doesn’t let the reader keep the book down! I also loved the Agatha Christie style in which Sikander Singh discloses to all his suspects that who killed Russell and why.

And as I always say, a good mystery novel is a one that engulfs you and makes you a part of itself. You cannot keep it down until you find out “Who did it?”A Very Pukka Murder has definitely set the bar soaring, and I for one simply loved it. So make sure you a grab copy of A Very Pukka Murder before someone reveals the mystery ingredient of this delicious dish.

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