In A Rising Man, Captain Sam Wyndham investigates the murder of a British civil servant, among the mansions and avenues, tenements and brothels of Calcutta in 1919. The Print Collector / Getty Images.
In A Rising Man, Captain Sam Wyndham investigates the murder of a British civil servant, among the mansions and avenues, tenements and brothels of Calcutta in 1919. The Print Collector / Getty Images.

Book review: Abir Mukherjee’s tale of death and intrigue in colonial Calcutta

Historical crime fiction is a tricky literary sub-genre, one that requires a deft balancing act, an equal proportion of intoxicating whodunit mystery and authentic period detail.

It is easy to do badly, which is perhaps why the best books in the field are those penned by experienced writers adept with, and unafraid of, different styles and eras. Still able to excite and convince are Philip Kerr and Benjamin Black – the former with sardonic sleuth Bernie Gunther in the Third Reich, the latter with eccentric pathologist Quirke in 1950’s Dublin.

With this in mind, we are allowed to worry that Abir Mukherjee, a London-based accountant-turned-author, has bitten off more than he can chew in producing a debut crime novel set in British India. However, by the end of the first chapter of A Rising Man it becomes clear that Mukherjee is more than capable of enthralling with the requisite pace, thrills, intrigue and historical verisimilitude.

Mukherjee plays safe by presenting a standard corpse on page one, but swiftly proceeds to create original touches, albeit within a familiar framework. We are in Calcutta in 1919, and the dead body is that of a tuxedoed British civil servant. The unfortunate sahib is found in a dark alley with a bloodstained piece of paper scrunched up in his mouth on which is written a warning to all British – leave India or more blood will flow.

For former Scotland Yard detective Captain Sam Wyndham, fresh off the boat from London, this seems like a cut-and-dried case: a blatant act of terrorism by Bengali revolutionaries. But when military intelligence muscle in and commandeer the crime scene, Wyndham gets suspicious and starts probing in different corners.

His inquiries take him from the mansions, clubs and wide avenues of the White Town quarter to the tenements, brothels and congested streets of the Black Town.

As in most crime novels, one murder is never enough, and in time Wyndham finds himself investigating whether a death on a train was the result of a botched robbery and whether his main eyewitness hanged herself or was bumped off for having seen too much.

Mukherjee builds a vivid cast around Wyndham, including a powerful industrialist, a Scottish vicar, an English landlady who bewails the “nefarious natives”, an elusive freedom fighter called the Ghost, and prostitutes named after Hindu goddesses.

Wyndham is driven around by rickshaw wallah Salman, falls for beautiful secretary Annie, and has a rival in sub-inspector Digby and a sidekick in Sergeant “Surrender-not” Banerjee – one of the few Indians in the Imperial Police Force.

And then there is Wyndham himself, a widower and guilty survivor of the Great War who has ventured East to make a new start. At first glance he is rather faceless and bland for a detective, lacking identifiable traits, affectations or accoutrements. But the more we follow him him, the more interesting facets he reveals such as his cravings for opium.

During several exchanges we see him as a good man in India, if not vocally objecting to the Raj and the white man’s burden then at least silently critical of imperial attitudes (“any notions I may once have held about British superiority had died back in Flanders alongside my friends”).

And while he is no wisecracking Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade, his narration is infused with a wry cynicism. Prison cells “boast ensuite facilities in the form of a bucket in the corner”. Death “smells worse in the tropics. Most things do.”

Mukherjee also brings colonial Calcutta spectacularly alive, both its rough and its smooth. As his characters traverse the city they offer trenchant asides on its merits and failings. Calcutta is “a prominent, yet problematic outpost of empire” in what one Anglo-Indian character terms “a land of hypocrites”.

After a civilian massacre Calcutta becomes a tinderbox – to such an extent that we wonder if Wyndham’s race to nab the guilty party and save an innocent man from the gallows will be enough to secure a happy ending.

A Rising Man is amply stocked with red herrings, scapegoats, cliffhangers and twists, but also comes with several clunky clichés. Fortunately they don't tarnish Mukherjee's overall achievement: a crime novel that is, quite simply, enormous fun. Wyndham's next assignment can't come soon enough.

Malcolm Forbes is a freelance reviewer based in Edinburgh.

The specs: 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

Price, base: Dh198,300
Engine: 2.0L in-line four-cylinder
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Power: 280hp @ 5,250rpm
Torque: 400Nm @ 2,250rpm
Fuel economy, combined: 7L / 100km

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Founders: Hamza Iraqui and Abdessamad Ben Zakour
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Funds raised so far: $10m
Investors: Flat6Labs, Resonance and various others


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Memory: 8/16/24GB

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I/O: Thunderbolt 3/USB-4 (2), 3.5mm audio, Touch ID

Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3

Battery: 52.6Wh lithium-polymer, up to 18 hours, MagSafe charging

Camera: 1080p FaceTime HD

Video: Support for Apple ProRes, HDR with Dolby Vision, HDR10

Audio: 4-speaker system, wide stereo, support for Dolby Atmos, Spatial Audio and dynamic head tracking (with AirPods)

Colours: Midnight, silver, space grey, starlight

In the box: MacBook Air, 30W/35W dual-port/70w power adapter, USB-C-to-MagSafe cable, 2 Apple stickers

Price: From Dh4,599

Our family matters legal consultant

Name: Hassan Mohsen Elhais

Position: legal consultant with Al Rowaad Advocates and Legal Consultants.

The years Ramadan fell in May






Directors: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods

Stars: Adam Driver, Ariana Greenblatt, Chloe Coleman

Rating: 2/5


Android Alpha

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Android 15 (Vanilla Ice Cream*)

* internal codenames

UAE v Gibraltar

What: International friendly

When: 7pm kick off

Where: Rugby Park, Dubai Sports City

Admission: Free

Online: The match will be broadcast live on Dubai Exiles’ Facebook page

UAE squad: Lucas Waddington (Dubai Exiles), Gio Fourie (Exiles), Craig Nutt (Abu Dhabi Harlequins), Phil Brady (Harlequins), Daniel Perry (Dubai Hurricanes), Esekaia Dranibota (Harlequins), Matt Mills (Exiles), Jaen Botes (Exiles), Kristian Stinson (Exiles), Murray Reason (Abu Dhabi Saracens), Dave Knight (Hurricanes), Ross Samson (Jebel Ali Dragons), DuRandt Gerber (Exiles), Saki Naisau (Dragons), Andrew Powell (Hurricanes), Emosi Vacanau (Harlequins), Niko Volavola (Dragons), Matt Richards (Dragons), Luke Stevenson (Harlequins), Josh Ives (Dubai Sports City Eagles), Sean Stevens (Saracens), Thinus Steyn (Exiles)

The biog

Occupation: Key marker and auto electrician

Hometown: Ghazala, Syria

Date of arrival in Abu Dhabi: May 15, 1978

Family: 11 siblings, a wife, three sons and one daughter

Favourite place in UAE: Abu Dhabi

Favourite hobby: I like to do a mix of things, like listening to poetry for example.

Favourite Syrian artist: Sabah Fakhri, a tenor from Aleppo

Favourite food: fresh fish

Pros and cons of BNPL


  • Easy to use and require less rigorous credit checks than traditional credit options
  • Offers the ability to spread the cost of purchases over time, often interest-free
  • Convenient and can be integrated directly into the checkout process, useful for online shopping
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Courtesy: Carol Glynn

The specs: 2017 Dodge Viper SRT

Price, base / as tested Dh460,000

Engine 8.4L V10

Transmission Six-speed manual

Power 645hp @ 6,200rpm

Torque 813Nm @ 5,000rpm

Fuel economy, combined 16.8L / 100km

Tailors and retailers miss out on back-to-school rush

Tailors and retailers across the city said it was an ominous start to what is usually a busy season for sales.
With many parents opting to continue home learning for their children, the usual rush to buy school uniforms was muted this year.
“So far we have taken about 70 to 80 orders for items like shirts and trousers,” said Vikram Attrai, manager at Stallion Bespoke Tailors in Dubai.
“Last year in the same period we had about 200 orders and lots of demand.
“We custom fit uniform pieces and use materials such as cotton, wool and cashmere.
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A spokesman for Threads, a uniform shop based in Times Square Centre Dubai, said customer footfall had slowed down dramatically over the past few months.

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The Greatest Royal Rumble card

50-man Royal Rumble - names entered so far include Braun Strowman, Daniel Bryan, Kurt Angle, Big Show, Kane, Chris Jericho, The New Day and Elias

Universal Championship Brock Lesnar (champion) v Roman Reigns in a steel cage match

WWE World Heavyweight ChampionshipAJ Styles (champion) v Shinsuke Nakamura

Intercontinental Championship Seth Rollins (champion) v The Miz v Finn Balor v Samoa Joe

United States Championship Jeff Hardy (champion) v Jinder Mahal

SmackDown Tag Team Championship The Bludgeon Brothers (champions) v The Usos

Raw Tag Team Championship (currently vacant) Cesaro and Sheamus v Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt

Casket match The Undertaker v Rusev

Singles match John Cena v Triple H

Cruiserweight Championship Cedric Alexander v Kalisto

Match statistics

Dubai Sports City Eagles 8 Dubai Exiles 85

Pen: Carey

Botes 3, Sackmann 2, Fourie 2, Penalty, Walsh, Gairn, Crossley, Stubbs
Cons: Gerber 7
Pens: Gerber 3

Man of the match: Tomas Sackmann (Exiles)

Pots for the Asian Qualifiers

Pot 1: Iran, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, China
Pot 2: Iraq, Uzbekistan, Syria, Oman, Lebanon, Kyrgyz Republic, Vietnam, Jordan
Pot 3: Palestine, India, Bahrain, Thailand, Tajikistan, North Korea, Chinese Taipei, Philippines
Pot 4: Turkmenistan, Myanmar, Hong Kong, Yemen, Afghanistan, Maldives, Kuwait, Malaysia
Pot 5: Indonesia, Singapore, Nepal, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Mongolia, Guam, Macau/Sri Lanka