11 March 2010

The Englishman’s Cameo


About a month ago , Altoid suggested this book to me.On one of my shopping trips to Bangalore Central(I bought myself a tee that read "Paris..ooh La La!") , I popped in to Crossword and emerged with "The Englishman's Cameo" by Madhulika Liddle.In the author's own words , "My first novel, The Englishman’s Cameo, is a detective story set in 17th century Delhi.Muzaffar Jang is that rare creature in Mughal Emperor Shahjahan’s Dilli – an aristocrat with friends in low places.One of whom, Faisal, stands accused of murder. "

Up front , I liked the design of the book , its bejeweled daggers , blood stains , the font et all.The story begins with the hero of the book , Muzaffar Jang whose close friend has been accused of murdering a nobleman,Murad Begh-unfairly so as Jang believes.What works for Jang is that the police officer in charge of the investigation happens to be his own brother in law.The plot thickens with the murder of the Begh's bodyguard, closely followed by a courtesan whom Begh frequently visited,interestingly due to a poisoned paan.

What worked for me:
The idea I thought was very interesting.A murder mystery set in the Mughal era.

What didn't

Oddly enough , Mr Jang thought and talked like a 21st century businessman.I quote
Salim: " Why hasn't a good man like you married yet ?"
"Good man , my foot(might he have said meri jhoothi?).Honestly , Salim:surely its wise to maintain some hold on reality?"
"Just because I haven't married yet doesn't mean I avoid women ....There should be more.There should be substance. "

Period writing is tough.Even if it is fiction.It is not as simple as slipping in a eunuch here , a coy courtesan there and why oh why is Shah Jahan called Maa'badaulat? Good question.And there is no glossary also.

Jang's quirk - his penchant for coffee.Ho Hum.Been there , done that.Inspired by Poirot's love for tisane.

The thing in Christie's books was that she told you when something was amiss, For eg "Eileen Carthwright called the gardener late that evening.But didnt she love repotting her plants by herself?".And you would remember it till the end.And you would go "Ahhh.. that fits" when she told you about Eileen the murderess who had not called the gardene
r but Mr Gardener, her partner in crime.Or something to that effect.But then Ms Liddle expects your memory to be 1GB RAM with 32KB Cache."Oh.. this is why Terrys brother waved goodbye to the boatman" it seems.And you start shuffling pages , and given that this Terrys brother waved a good many times , you're better off taking his word for it.

I guess there is something about growing up on Christie's books.She has raised the bar so high ,she's almost impossible to match up to.I have read all her 72 books thanks to the City Central Library and not once have I got the murderer right.Ok.But if we already know the murderer , then let us atleast know the how part in a interesting way no?

The ending.Sigh.The worst part.She keeps you guessing on one of the murders,which is a total turn off with

If ever I meet you Ms Liddle , I would tell you that your average reader is dumb.Like me.That's because they're brain dead software engineers.And what with Anandi dead/In coma , we are already under a lot of stress.

Englishman's Cameo:
Recommended when you are sitting in the 201 bus and the guy next to you is as uninteresting as Mr Jang.

2.5 cups of coffee on a scale of 5

4 scribbled back to “The Englishman’s Cameo”

  • Friday, March 19, 2010 11:14:00 PM
    Anil P says:

    Period-writing is indeed tough, more so if one has to do it in English.

    If you've the time, pick up Girish Karnad's play 'Tuglaq', in English.

    It's a small sized book, at least when I bought it, but rivetting in the dialogues.

  • Monday, March 29, 2010 9:35:00 AM
    Serendipity says:

    Anil:Ok , will do :)

  • Wednesday, March 31, 2010 4:42:00 AM
    Serendipity says:


  • Wednesday, March 31, 2010 5:46:00 PM
    Serendipity says:

    :D hehe! save for the pic :P.Welcome to the umble abode


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