1950, Bombay, and for over a hundred years, a priceless original copy of Dante’s The Divine Comedy has been housed at Bombay’s Asiatic Society. Access to the book is limited to a privileged few, so when it goes missing, along with the man studying it, the British war hero and scholar John Healy, the level of potential scandal is immense. The case is handed to Inspector Persis Wadia at Malabar House, the destination of cases that nobody else wants to deal with.
Why did Healy, if he was determined to disappear, leave a series of riddles forming a treasure hunt leading to… where? It soon becomes clear that Persis – along with the forensic scientist Archie Blackfinch – is not the only one looking for the document and Healy, and at least one of the others looking for it is willing to kill. But what is the true value of the manuscript? And can Persis find it first?
This is the second book in the series, after Midnight At Malabar House, and I’ve been meaning to read it for a while, prompted by the upcoming third book, The Lost Man Of Bombay, which I’ll be reviewing soon.
As with the first book, this is a riveting read, but I feel I should warn readers that this is a very different book, plot-wise. The first book was very much a classic whodunnit, and while this also has a Golden Age feel to it, it feels a little more like one of Freeman Wills Crofts’ Inspector French books (a bit) as we are following Persis solve the case, rather than working out who from a list of suspects is the killer.
The book is not the worse for this – Khan once again brings 1950’s Bombay to life and by using the detail of the riddles posed by Healy, elements of the city’s history are brought to focus. You may well know, dear reader, that I enjoy historical mysteries that weave the detail into the plot without either suffering and this is definitely the case here. There’s an element of the riddles that could be solved by the reader, but again, we are mostly watching Persis solving them.
This might be a problem if Persis (and the rest of the cast) weren’t such well-constructed characters. Her progress and relationships with her fellow cast members are genuinely interesting to follow. A very enjoyable book – well worth your time.