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Trouble in Nuala (The Inspector de Silva Mysteries Book 1) Kindle Edition
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The first in what will undoubtedly prove to be a popular series.
Set in 1930s Ceylon (Sri Lanka as it is now), Inspector Shanti de Silva is living there, at Sunnybank, with his English wife, Jane and solving all kinds of murder mysteries.
In this first novel, it comes to his attention that Gooptu, a worker on the Renshaw plantation, has been physically disciplined, leaving him pretty severely wounded – possibly even dead, as he seems to have disappeared. Charles Renshaw, the owner, is generally deemed an unpleasant sort and de Silva needs to have a word with him about his unacceptable conduct.
When Renshaw himself is found dead, the immediate assumption is that he has had a heart attack, confirmed by his doctor. But Inspector de Silva has his suspicions that not all is as it seems. There are, afterall, plenty of potential perpetrators, including the hapless Gooptu.
The book has lyrical descriptions of 1930s Ceylon, and it captures the feel of place and time. It is written in a gentle style, often reflecting the feel of an era when Britishness was pretty ubiquitous on the island, yet another little corner of England. It also gives a little insight into the island as it was then, a history of the diverse cultures that came together, and this all aids understanding of the island as it is today. Light and very readable, I might have liked to see a little more substance in the narrative. I look forward to the next book in the series.
De Silva is called to a meeting with Archie Clutterbuck, the assistant government agent, at his home and asked to investigate a plantation owner who allegedly flogged one of his workers. Charles Renshaw, the plantation owner, is opinionated and unpopular, with a younger, vulnerable wife and stepson. The investigation progresses at a steady pace and as the case evolves there’s a death which turns out to be suspicious. De Silva refuses to be less than efficient regardless of Clutterbuck wanting the case solved with the minimum of fuss. Perhaps, after all, life isn’t going to be as restful as De Silva hoped.
The author’s representation of Ceylon and evocative descriptions conjure up immediate images; the weather, food, scenery and social climate are evident. I can just see de Silva’s sitting in splendour in his pride and joy, the Morris Cowley 2-seater Tourer.
'Rickshaws darted between bullock carts laden with sacks of rice; piles of bananas and coconuts; and mounds of other fruits and vegetables. Stalls offering cooked food lined the dusty streets and passers-by stopped to purchase bowls of curry and rice or paper cornets of sticky sweetmeats.’
An enjoyable, well written cozy mystery with a cast of well defined characters. Shanti de Silva is an engaging and wonderfully drawn protagonist. A man of principle, practical and not averse to following his own instincts if the situation warrants. The wonderful setting sets the story apart and allows a look back at a fascinating way of life and culture. I love the relationship between De Silva and Jane and look forward to the next book.
Reviewed for Rosie Amber’s book review team and based on a digital copy from the author. This does not affect my opinion or the content of my review.
Fascinating investigation of the local British tea factory owner, a very nasty piece of work, on a shabby plantation with ill-used workers. Once this cruel owner is found dead, Shanti has to walk a fine line with both the man’s friend and his lawyer as he works to solve the murder. A mistreated and frightened wife, a mistreated and dismissed worker, a car chase in a Daimler through the thronged streets of Nuala—all these add to the puzzle amid long-ago local color.
Another amusing touch to this delightful look at life in Ceylon is de Silva’s malapropisms, which his wife gently corrects (“a warning shot across the ship” is corrected to “across the bows, dear.”) With financial intrigue and worker issues to negotiate, and in spite of the interference of the assistant government agent, aptly named Clutterbuck, de Silva slowly and calmly ties everything together and I was left happily looking forward to the next two books in the series.
Reading this book reminded me of taking a pleasant train journey. There is a rhythm to the story that pulls you in and keeps you reading. The settings in Sri Lanka are gorgeous and described so well you can visualize the landscape, tea plantations, colonial outposts and busy cities. I also enjoyed learning more about the social structures and ethnic composition of the country. The caste system, interracial marriages, colonial attitudes and treatment of plantation workers are all discussed.
The murder mystery is secondary to the story and is only introduced towards the middle of the novel. Much time is spent establishing (what I assume will be) the core cast of engaging characters in this (currently) four book series.
I enjoyed traveling to Sri Lanka with Harriet Steel and look forward to reading the rest of the series.
My rating: 4 stars content + 5 stars location = 4.5 stars overall