Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Harini Nagendra's The Bangalore Detectives Club introduces an intrepid female protagonist in 1920s India

“Women’s dreams were only as big as their husbands’ egos would permit them to be,” thinks Kaveri Murthy, who has recently moved to Bangalore to live with her husband, Ramu, a doctor at Bowring Hospital. It’s 1921, and Kaveri’s conservative mother-in-law would definitely not approve of her obtaining a mathematics degree or going swimming in a clingy silk costume. Fortunately for Kaveri, Ramu is progressive, supportive, and eager to make his beautiful young wife happy, just one aspect of this series launch that upends expectations.

A fan of Agatha Christie and Baroness Orczy, Kaveri puts her own deductive abilities to the test after a burly stranger, later discovered to be a pimp, is murdered in the garden of the exclusive Century Club during a dinner party. The Murthys are in attendance, as are English and Indian doctors and their wives, with Kaveri’s milkman and his wife assisting in the kitchen.

It’s a nice change to have a mystery where the police welcome an amateur detective’s help, but Deputy Inspector Mr. Ismail is pressured to solve the case, so Kaveri must work overtime to ensure the wrong person (a downtrodden woman present at the crime scene) isn’t unfairly blamed.

Kaveri is simply adorable. In her gentle, determined way, she acknowledges gender and caste barriers while brushing past them to get the job done. The cultural milieu of early ‘20s Bangalore comes to life, from an elegant mansion owned by a snobby British couple to the cowherds’ colony, where respectable women like Kaveri really shouldn’t be visiting.

To please her husband, Kaveri tries her hand at cooking new dishes (recipes are included), and her elderly neighbor, “Uma aunty,” becomes a wonderful mentor and partner-in-sleuthing. Despite occasional head-hopping and some plotting that plays to stereotype, this debut is worth embracing.

I reviewed The Bangalore Detectives Club from a personal copy (this review also appears online at the Historical Novel Society website). This is Harini Nagendra's first novel, and she's also a renowned, award-winning ecologist with her own Wikipedia page.  If you're a fan of Sujata Massey's Perveen Mistry series set in '20s Bombay, give this a try. They share common themes, but the tone of this one is more lighthearted.

2 comments:

  1. Really like the sound of this one. Thanks for the review.

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    Replies
    1. It's worth seeking out - I enjoyed it and look forward to the next book.

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