The Lucknow Ransom

You may think you have seen a review of this book in the Tivyside, written by myself. You may have done, but if you read this one you will see the extent to which ‘editing’ goes on in the areas of arts reviews of any kind. Not just the Tivyside does this, but all newspapers, so some of the best bits of writing, the nicest compliments etc never see the light of day. So here is the full review as written by me, before the subs got their hands on it..ha ha.

Lucknow Ransom, the new book by Glen Peters is the second outing for the charming heroine Mrs Joan D’Silva, and unlike the first book in which it is Mrs D’Silva’s detective instincts which lead us through the story, this one is less a single detective’s whodunnit, more a crime mystery which is ultimately solved by  an ensemble of characters. As the story runs, each one of them adds a distinct, vibrant thread  to a multi-coloured tapestry portraying India during the 1960’s.

This is a novel with the recognisable flavour and visual sense of  a Bollywood Movie; full of passions, pleasures, dastardly deeds, wicked anti-heroes and of course,  a final romantic rescue for the heroine. The most exhilarating aspect of a really excellent Bollywood  Movie is of course the fact that however serious the plot, or however many wicked deeds are planned and executed, it can all be set aside for at least a short while, in order to allow for some fun, some loving  and some music and dancing. This is accurately depicted here, in a tale of ransoms, murder and poisoning, where every so often there are moments of relief from the dark side of life, with generous descriptions of delicious food, romantic flirtations and gorgeous attire. And all of the detail at every point in the story reassures the reader that the author knows well the place and the mores of those who live there.

The filmic quality of the book continues as the story of the ransom at Lucknow, where Ms D’Silva finds herself with her small son Errol seeking refuge and a new life, is written from a multi-viewpoint perspective. This takes the reader from  experiencing scenes as viewed merely through the eyes of the main character, and adds an immediacy to the whole thing , just as in a movie, we look through the eyes of each of the characters on to the happenings, and see them differently. The single viewpoint, which is often used in detective novels would not necessarily offer this lively, exploratory format, and though at moments the wonderful cavalcade of characters involved in the finding of the guilty party can be confusing, the life and colour in the writing keep one gripped, and the bonus is that we are taking a journey to a time and place unknown to most of us, that of post-colonial India in the 1960’s and the lives of the Anglo-Indian community.

The insights into the position of this shrinking group, the ‘A1’ members of a society, as they see themselves, in times of unsettling political and social changes are fascinating. The language, is wonderful, redolent of England in the fifties and sixties but with its own idiosyncratic usage,  and in the midst of upheaval somehow these strong characters manage to hold on for a while to a way of life which they have enjoyed during their lifetimes. This elite circle has its own rules, and a formality in its image, that brings for  them the valued respect and even admiration, of others.

Keeping up that front of respectability is hard for Mrs D’Silva, who is a thoroughly modern heroine, forward-thinking, independent and despite a lack of money with a desire to achieve things for her son. She moves with beauty and good humour through almost everything, wisely listens to her own dreams, has a care for the underdog,  is a good loving mother, and does not stand for bullying or dishonesty in others.  The reader is moved to like her spontaneously because she acts from her own beliefs, so when she suspects things are going wrong they usually are doing so and, when she falls in love with a man who is not what he seems, just like in Bollywood, there is plenty of song and dance before the final twist in the tale.

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