Book Reviews

Book Review | The Englishman’s Cameo by Madhulika Liddle

Madhulika Liddle
Written by Arunima

When you pick up a book whose protagonist is fashioned after your childhood crush, you read the book with a certain apprehension. Afraid that your memories might get tainted. So it was, when I picked up Madhulika Liddle’s The Englishman’s Cameo. The book blurb indicates that the protagonist – Muzaffar Jang – is another version of Sherlock Holmes, albeit in a different setting. I grew up reading Sherlock Holmes and fantasizing that he was a real person whom I could meet. So when I met Madhulika and then picked up her book to read, I had my apprehensions. However, my fears were unfounded.

The Englishman’s Cameo is every bit an original. Yes there are these stray similarities – the sharp-minded yet reclusive bachelor who shuns public life, the bumbling yet loyal friend and follower, the friendship with the strangest people from the city’s underbelly. But beyond that it is a brilliant work of detective fiction.

Muzaffar Jang is a young man who is troubled by his friend’s arrest over a murder he has supposedly committed. Jang is convinced that his friend is not the murderer. And he sets out to investigate. As he delves deeper into the mystery, he unravels a conspiracy much deeper than the murder of one man; a conspiracy whose roots traverse deep into the palaces and forts of seventeenth-century Mughal empire.

Like most historical fiction books, the story takes you back in time to a different era. But unlike these works of fiction, here one is no longer just a mute observer. Madhulika creates a narrative where the reader is as involved as the protagonist in trying to solve the mystery. Hence one finds oneself within the walls of Shahjahanabad, strolling along water channels in its lawns; lazing within the havelis that dot the outskirts of the city; visiting the Bazaars of Shah Jahan’s Dilli.

The content is well-researched and if you’re an enthusiast of Delhi’s history, especially from the Mughal era, then this book will give you a fresh perspective of the going-ons in the city that Jahanara designed and Shah Jahan ruled from. One can also see the beginnings of the English rule. The story itself is gripping, and while one does get a hint of the actual culprits towards the beginning of the second half, the way the end plays out is a surprise in itself.

Being a sucker for detective mysteries, it’s after a long time that I read a story so well-narrated by an Indian author.

Do note: This is not a book you can read on a short flight or a travel. Oh, the book itself can be finished on 3-4 hours. But the hangover period, where you end up reading all about Shah Jahan’s Dilli, is much, much longer !

Reviewer’s Rating: 5/5

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