It’s 1940. In Shimla, that was the time when hill station was swarming with Englishmen who had decided to live in this cosy hill town because it reminded them so much of their country. And their English memsahibs were busy too, there was the bridge club to attend, tea parties to be hosted, and that famous Governor’s Fancy Dress Ball to look forward to... So much so that the murder of a girl at Chartsville Hall mattered little to the ladies!
Rosa Rodriguez had arrived unannounced here, which happened to be the residence of William Parker-Smith, the assistant deputy commissioner. He lived there with his wife Helen, and had an army of servants to look after them and the house, ‘untrained servants’, as Rani Sahiba would put it. Rani Sahiba was Helen’s dear friend, her husband was the raja of Manon, and she was visiting the couple when the murder happened after a dinner party. No one knew who Rosa Rodriguez was.
The eccentric girl literally gatecrashed a dinner party at the Chartsville Hall and was found dead in her room the next day. Who was the murderer? That’s for inspector Ram Sen to find out. Midway through the investigation, another murder takes place. This time it is one of servants working at the Chartsville Hall. The Indian inspector is already having a tough time with the investigation because the high-society Brits don’t like being questioned by the Indian!
But he has friends who help him! There’s Mrs Tweedy, an old English lady who had made Shimla her home and lives alone -- but knows everything that’s going on in Shimla. She was one of those rare English memsahibs who did not like to gossip -- reading and working gave her immense joy. Then there’s Mary, Parker-Smith’s niece. She’s come from England on a short visit and helps with the investigation. And then there’s Boris. The Russian knows everything that’s going on in the dark dingy lanes of Lower Mall in Shimla which is a drug dealers’ hot spot. Murder in Shimla aims to recreate the magic of Agatha Christie, but for the loose ends that the author has left untied. The title sounds like the book has all the makings of a murder mystery, but the slow pace of the book puts in into the ‘light read’ category.
The writer Bulbul Sharma, who is also an acclaimed painter, has successfully recreated the lazy lifestyle of the English families in India at that time, really the privileged lot for whom local Indians didn’t really matter. Murder in Shimla is your dose of the good old-fashioned murder novels that did not have telephones (forget mobiles) or other gadgets to help solve crimes. It’s a book to revel in the Raj era’s lifestyle more than dwelling on who killed whom.
Name: Murder in Shimla
Author: Bulbul Sharma
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Price: Rs 399