04 November 2009

The Englishman’s Cameo by Madhulika Liddle

Once upon a time, long, long ago …
I had expected something light and frothy, so when I started reading and found that the detailed descriptions and somewhat unfamiliar names needed concentration, I wished for a while that I was watching the movie version instead.
This book is a murder mystery set in Delhi in 1656. Madhulika Liddle’s descriptions of the city during Shah Jehan’s reign are lifelike and convincing. I felt (though I don’t have the knowledge to verify) that the wonderful detail in the book has been painstakingly researched. The food, architecture, customs, eccentricities – all are described in simple, effective language and skilfully woven into the circumstances of the story.
Muzaffar Jung is the lightweight hero of this book. He’s an aristocrat, but not pompous; literature and poetry impress him but he’s not particularly an intellectual; he’s an orphan with a loving family. In addition, he’s extremely brave, tolerant to pain, with noble inclinations – and fabulous to look at, too.

This murder mystery acquaints us with a range of characters of the Mughal court: courtesans, jewellers, eunuchs, boatmen and more.

I enjoyed the book but found that the setting overwhelms the plot. I feel even more now than before that this book would make a fabulous movie, and hope that a skillful director takes it up soon.

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