Published in June by Cardigan-based Parthian Books, Mrs D'Silva's Detective Instincts and the Shaitan of Calcutta is an absolute delight and quite original. Both facets come from the author drawing on his own experience of a childhood in India in the 1950s, lovingly recalled in this novel. From the first page you are immediately transported to another time, place and culture in the full confidence that an accurate portrayal is delivered.
The novel opens in 1960 with a group of Anglo-Indians heading out for a picnic at the shrine of Our Lady by the Hooghly, a tributary of the Ganges. All goes well, with tensions dissipated when the all important food proves to be of the usual high standard and with the new transistor radio working a treat. All until Joan D'Silva's ten year old son Errol wanders off and returns horrified, having discovered the dead body of a young woman on the banks of the river.
Not enough that this idyllic scene is destroyed by the discovery, Calcutta itself is subject to dark undercurrents with the activities of the Workers' Revolutionary Movement of Bengal starting to have an impact. The widowed Mrs D'Silva, a teacher at Don Bosco's Catholic school then discovers that a former pupil, Anil Sen has been charged with the murder of a factory manager at a riot. Sen was a close friend of the dead woman, Agnes Lal.
Along the way Mrs D'Silva's Detective Instincts and the Shaitan of Calcutta manages to take in mystery and suspense; political corruption; cultural tensions; the changing face of India during those times; the pressures of emigration; a huge amount of food; the nature of relationships and more than one love story. It is hard not to smile many times on reading because the people are lovingly engaging, even the not well-liked ones. Here's sample from a passage on the school's sports day:
Finally they were under starter's orders and they were off. Punditji waddled with all his might, kurta flying in the air and determination on his face. He was fixed on getting somewhere, but not necessarily on the track, and he wove in and out of Mrs Shrove's path, much to her annoyance as she thundered forwards, her large breasts flying ahead of her.
Mrs D'Silva's Detective Instincts and the Shaitan of Calcutta is an absolute gem of a novel. And if that that's not enough to tempt you, the cover includes three recipes.
The author pursued a career in engineering management and is a partner with PriceWaterhouseCoopers. But he also has Welsh connection, deeper than that with his publisher. He is the founder of Project Rhosygilwen in west Wales, a Pembrokeshire-based rural arts regeneration venture. I do hope he continues with his fiction writing career and look forward to more.