The days of British rule in India are nearing their end in 1922, when this (dare I say)cleverly plotted mystery by Barbara Cleverly takes place.
To outward appearances, things are well in hand. Just a few thousand colonial troops, along with their Indian military staff and a handfull of top British government officials control a population of millions. But there is trouble ahead. Ghandi is busy raising the consiousness of the Indian population, and Afghanistan is poised to make trouble along the northern border.
Ms. Cleverly immediately plunges the reader into a world where British administrators, like Lieutenant Governor of Bengal Sir George Jardine may as well be Rajahs. They live in mansions with a staff of servants, and continue to dress as they did in England, all the while living in a climate like that of Houston.
The climate is the reason why the government repairs in summer to Simla, a mountain town which provides relief from the heat in the days before air conditioning. Scotland Yard Commander Joe Sandilands has been invited to visit Sir George for a vacation before heading back to England. Sir George sends a Packard limousine to pick Joe up at the railhead. This shows Joe packs some juice, since there are only four cars in Simla and Packard is the car of status in the years before the Second World War. Joe offers a ride to a famous Russian opera singer, who is murdered on the road to Simla.
It turns out that Sir George has an ulterior motive in inviting Joe to visit. The beautiful Alice Conyers is the CEO of a successful trading company. A few months before, her brother, believed to have been killed in the war, had resurfaced. He was on his way to Simla to take over the family company when he was murdered (in 1922 the male heir still inherited, I assume).
Is it a coincidence that Alice's brother and the opera singer were shot and killed at the same location? Is this a murder mystery? Anyway, Sir George asks Joe to investigate the murders, and Joe must be some kind of investigator, since he is a Scotland Yard Commander at a ridiculously early age. After all, the brilliant Adam Dalglish was middle-aged before he made Commander!
All of the characters were extremely well drawn. All but Joe have distinctive, even colorful personalities. Even Joe might have a personality hidden somewhere, but this is the day of the British stiff upper lip.
The plot is quite inventive, and features an early case of identity theft. The ending is fine, though the last ten pages or so draw leisurely to a close. But all in all, as the British say, "Well done!"