he Last Kashmiri Rose is set in the unusual location of British India, in the 1920's. It is the story of detective Joe Sandilands,
a policeman of Scotland Yard. Joe is just about to leave Calcutta for a long desired return to London, when he gets a letter from the Governor. It
seems that there had been a suspicious suicide by the wife of a British officer stationed at Panikhat. The Governor wants Joe to postpone his trip
to England to investigate this suicide, because it turns out that the woman is not the first wife to die under questionable circumstances. Previously,
one officer's wife died in a house fire. Another fell from her horse and plummeted over a cliff. A third woman died of a cobra bite. A fourth woman
drowned when the river ferry she was on capsized in mid-river. Would Sandilands mind investigating all these strange demises, even though some of them
occured years ago?
Sandilands soon finds himself on a train to Panikhat. But he is sharing the delightful company of the spirited and comely Nancy Drummond, so the
journey turns out to be quite enjoyable. Naturally, the Police Superintendant of Panikhat is a fool, but Sandilands is given the assistance of Naurang Singh, who
turns out to be an intelligent aide. Together Sandilands and Naurang begin their investigation. Although there is some mention of fingerprints and blood types, the
only really intelligence is to be gleaned from interviews, there is no physical evidence to examine (Even in the most recent case, the scene of the suicide, has already
been scrubbed clean.) Nancy Drummond and Naurang are perhaps the most interesting characters in the book, even better than Sandilands himself. Since this is apparently
the first book in a series, I hope Cleverly brings them back for an encore performance.
The cover of The Last Kashmiri Rose states: "A New York Times Notable Book of the Year". That is high praise, so I expected an overall great
novel. While the book is an interesting read, I don't know it deserved "Book of the Year" platitudes. Sandilands does some questioning of suspects, but essentially the entire
case is solved for him when he happens to ask a particular clerk about the patrons of the club on the fateful night. It hardly takes Sherlock Holmes to deduce the
motive and the criminal after that interview. The case seems a bit too easy, but I think this is Cleverly's first novel, so hopefully the next books in the series
are a bit more mysterious.
*** SPOILER ALERT - skip these last paragraphs if you haven't read Last Kashmiri Rose yet ***
I was disappointed by the identity of the murderer. Even if the incompetent British investigators see a brown skinned man and
automatically assume he is Indian; it strikes me as completely improbable that they wouldn't recognize a man that they see every day, even if is not
currently wearing his British uniform.
It was my theory that the villain would turn out to be Chedi Khan, the loyal servant whose burned body was found next Holly's after the
fire was finally extinguished. I thought: what if that was not Chedi's body at all, but a substitute? Perhaps Chedi was engaged in a long scheme of revenge -
after all, recall that Prentice led a team against Chedi's village, wiping them out, before adopting Chedi into his service. It seemed unlikely to me that
young Chedi would so willing join with the British who just destroyed his family. I thought Chedi had instead adopted a long range plan of revenge, but my
guess turned out to be wrong.
Although the actually detective work and plotting seemed a bit light, I would still read further books in the series about detective Sandilands.
Cleverly does an excellent job of character development, and an equally good job of depicting the British presence in India near the end of their empire.