Here’s the blurb from the back of the book…
It’s just another evening at the Tiller’s Club.
Near the bar, Capt. Rana, the Young Officer undergoing training at the War College stands among his course mates, consciously avoiding his pregnant, Muslim wife, Heena. Rumour has it she had forced him to marry her because of the baby.
Saryu, village belle turned modern babe, drink in hand, chats up a YO. Her husband, Maj. Vikram Singh, shoots angry glances at her. She isn’t bothered; the question is, who will she go home with tonight?
Pam and Gary, the flamboyant Sikh couple, chat merrily with the senior officers, charming as ever. Who’d ever guess that they lead the infamous Key Club, an underground swinger couples’ club.
And in one corner stands the Anglo-Indian wife of Maj. George Chandy, Eva, who finds herself at the heart of a murder mystery when a woman’s bleeding body is discovered at the old church under the black cross. The murdered woman’s body is covered with cigarette burns. A six-year-old girl’s wrist is similarly marked. Another little girl shows signs of severe abuse.
The basic story is set in a place called Jacob Hills – somewhere close to Simla, a hill-station in the Himalayas in India. Jacob Hills is a military training facility to train Young Officers to become high-ranking military personnel.
In this seemingly idyllic place, a murder happens that no one is willing to look closely into…a murder that could embarrass the top brass in the army.
What happens next, how this murder touches the lives of the people living in the camp, that’s what happens in the rest of the book.
Like I said upfront, I really liked this book very much. It’s a well-written, well-plotted mystery with a very intriguing set of characters. All the characters in the book are sketched out with a lot of detail.
As a thriller, it doesn’t work all that well, and to be honest, I don’t think that’s the intent of the author at all. If you go into this book expecting a high-stakes thriller with multiple murders and serial killers and all that jazz, you will be disappointed.
Instead, it is a book about how claustrophobic and political a place can get when people with varying backgrounds and education levels are cooped up together. It’s pretty terrible to socialize only with the same circle of friends, but when that friend’s husband is your husband’s boss? well, then the situation can get downright awkward. I loved these sections of the book that dealt with all these inter-personal issues between the characters. I loved how the author showed the gossipy nature of the social circle and how it undermined people’s happiness.
Also, the scene setting and the descriptions of the army way of life are all very realistic and seem true to life, right from the fashions of the time to the attitudes of the characters.
Overall, it was a great read. Only two gripes with the book:
- I’m not a huge fan of the cover artwork and font type. When it came in my inbox for review, my first instinct was to refuse after seeing this garish cover. All that red, and the huge font size was a real turn-off. I think it was something about the email that prompted me to accept and I am so glad I did because I love the book.
- I wish the sections about Captain Rana and his relationship with his wife was fleshed out a bit more. I liked both these two characters and could have dealt with a more in-depth resolution to their marital issues. Also, they are the first people mentioned in the book blurb, so I thought they were one of the main characters but that really isn’t the case.
One last word: This is a very minor aspect of the book, but I love the sweet illustrations that appear in the chapter headings. Like I said very minor, but still I liked it, and it adds a nice creative touch to the entire book.