Book Review :: Crimson City

Crimson City (Muzaffar Jang, #4)Crimson City by Madhulika Liddle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This review was first published in The Hans India newspaper.

Good old-fashioned detective work
A stage of political unrest is set as the Mughal Emperor, Shahjahan’s troops led by Aurangazeb and Mir Jumla are besieging the Fort of Bidar and rumours of taking on the Golconda Fort in Deccan are rampant. Muzaffar Jang returns in his third story, ‘Crimson City’; this time there are murders committed in his neighbourhood.

Crimson City is set in the spring of 1657. There is a serial killer in Dilli and Jung, 26, newly married to Shireen, is not allowed to investigate the crimes by order of his brother-in-law cum guardian, the Kotwal of Dilli, Khan Sahab. Mysterious that, meanwhile other crimes are committed—a money lender’s infant son kidnapped; a prosperous and influential nobleman found dead; and yet another man killed in Jung’s mohallah, the turmoil is evident owing to the Mughal Empire’s state of agitation at the time.

Crimson City uses the serial killer theme along with weaving in other shorter episodes. The interesting part about the setting is the good old-fashioned detective work. There are no advanced technologies like DNA Analysis or fingerprint scanning or facial recognition or even basic chemical tox-screening. Muzaffar and the Kotwal rely solely on observation, deduction and tedious detective work. While the investigation comes across as tedious, it gives the readers the opportunity to solve crimes along with Jung; especially the kidnapping episode of the infant in which the reader can guess the culprit before Jung’s announcement of the same.

It’s a slow read. Not your typical mystery novel. In spite of having a serial killer, the second murder comes in after a good 150 pages of the 318 pages book. It takes a lot of time for readers to build interest and involve themselves in the story. Much of what is written is Muzaffar’s long-winded thinking on trying to figure out why Khan Sahab has banned him from investigating (to no avail) and dealing with his urges to comply with the order; again to no avail.

The last 100 pages are gripping as Muzaffar disguises himself and comes back in full swing, much like his earlier adventures, and does some hard core investigation using his charm and arrogance for good. The bits involving his wife, Shireen are awe-inspiring as it not only establishes credit for the story, but a point of character development; the couple could become a crime solving duo.

The biggest win for the book would be its historical accuracy. Lengthy descriptions of Delhi in Mughal era; the Chandni Chowk, the Jama Masjid, the hammams, the sarais and more give a vivid idea on the daily lives of the people during that time. However, that his no feat for Liddle who has always been a history buff and has extensive knowledge of Mughal India.

The high point of the book is the second murder as Liddle creates a scene like the quiet before a storm; Jung sensing the unrest in peace… his wife, the beautiful Shireen has been gone for long while he was in his siesta, and just as he heads out of his home there are screams and chaos everywhere. Intriguing parts such as these are intermittent throughout the book leaving the reader with inconsistent involvement in the story.

‘Crimson City’ is historical crime fiction. Obviously, one cannot expect crimes to be solved in a jiff with hi-tech equipments. Liddle’s creation, Muzaffar Jung, is slowly becoming a regular in her books and she is shaping him up with each book. He had started off in ‘The Englishman’s Cameo’, her first novel featuring him as a man, who is forced by circumstances to investigate a case. Since then, his innate curiosity and love for justice has spurred him on.

Not all mysteries are solved at the end though. The reader still doesn’t know the exact reason as to why the Kotwal had banned Jung; although they end up solving the serial killings together towards the end of the story. The chemistry between Jung and Khan Sahab has taken a new turn and surely, there are more Muzaffar Jung books in the future for fans of this character to enjoy.

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