LAWRENCE G. BLOCHMAN. Bombay Mail (1934).

19 Apr

Swift and sure, on track and mostly on time, a train hurtles across the plains and hills of central India. Moving to the rhythmic clatter of steel wheels on steel rails, it carves out a kind of core sample of the land and its people, allowing passengers to view from its windows an array of timeless Indian sights: dun-hued mud huts and strange trapezoidal temples, men in red turbans and women in blazing-yellow saris. BombayMailOldBig.jpgJust so does Blochman set this début novel churning forward and gliding past colorful terrain—from its tense beginning at Government House in Calcutta (where Indian Nationalists have detonated a bomb) to its neat finish at Ballard Pier in Bombay (where romance blooms between a pair of newly cleared former suspects, a pukka American fellow and a plucky Canadian lass). In between, Inspector Leonidas Prike of the Criminal Investigation Division sifts through clues to figure out who poisoned Sir Anthony Daniels and who later shot the Maharajah of Zunjore. Both victims met their end while riding the Bombay Mail, and Prike vows to name the culprit before the train reaches its terminus. The mystery that he successfully solves doesn’t quite merit a top travel-reviewer’s rating, and neither do the thriller-like antics that come beforehand. Overall, though, this modest entertainment earns its fare as a well-turned period piece.

[ADDENDUM: Three years ago, I traveled to India. It was my first trip to the subcontinent, and it may well be my last—not because it failed to leave an impression on me, but because it left such a bewilderingly strong one. After my return home, I read this book, along with one or two other detective novels that took India as their setting. India, famously, is a land of great chaos and a land of great beauty. There’s nothing like a good mystery yarn, or even a bad one, to banish the spell of chaos. As for beauty, I don’t need a book to help me remember that side of the Indian experience.]

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Posted by on April 19, 2010 in American, Golden Age, Novel, Puzzle


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