The Sam Wyndham books are a series of mystery novels written by Abir Mukherjee. Set in 1919, Calcutta, the series revolves around Captain Sam Wyndham, of the Imperial police force and his partner Sergeant Surendranath Banarjee as they try to solve complex mysteries in the bustling streets of Calcutta.
A decorated soldier, Captain Sam is called to India after the First World War. Many forces play a part in him getting the job, including his superior, Inspector Taggert, a high ranking police officer who also served with Sam in the War.
In India, Sam meets Sergeant Surendranath Banarjee, also called as “Surrender-not” by the British, a remarkable and intelligent young man, and together, they solve cases.
Sam’s character is brilliant, but troubled. An opium addict, Sam’s return to India marks a turning point in his life- the need for a fresh start after the death of his wife in the Spanish flu epidemic which started in 1918. Mukherjee uses Sam’s distasteful habit superbly, sometimes using opium as a hook to propel the story forward; sometimes using it to point out the deeply flawed nature of human beings.
Sam’s partner – Surendranath Banarjee is a rational and level headed man. The reason for him joining the police force is simple- he wants to know how law and order works so that when the British leave India,it would be easier for Indians to manage themselves.
As an Indian. I am drawn to Surendranath’s character the most. A sensible, young man, Surendranath does have to stand at many crossroads in the midst of the ever growing nationalism in India. At times, he is shown conflicted, questioning even, yet he is often firm in his conviction, despite the disapproval of his parents and relatives. And this is the part about him I absolutely like and can relate to.
Mukherjee’s books are full of delight. From the workings of the British Raj, to the buildings of British Calcutta, from high rising emotions of nationalism to the pure indignation of the British, Mukherjee paints a verbal image which evokes one’s imagination. It is almost as if he is switching on the metaphorical time machine and taking you to a world, very different from the one you already know now.
The first book A Rising Man begins with the murder of a senior British officer. A crumpled note in his mouth , perhaps a premonition of the time to come, warns the British to quit India. Here is where Surendranath first comes to the attention of Sam. As a Bengali Indian, he is one of the only ones who can read the note, which is in Bengali. However, what begins as what the police think is a political murder, soon turns into something quite sinister and personal.
The second book of the series A Necessary Evil takes place some time after the events of the first book. The modern prince of Sambalpur, Prince Adhir, is attacked and killed for what seems to be a religious motive. The young prince had made several enemies while trying to modernize his kingdom. What follows is Sam and Surendranath, traversing across the vast expanse of the country to the lush green Odisha. The vivid and the beautiful description of the Rath Yatra absolutely evokes one’s wonder and imagination. Read it till the end and the title will make absolute sense.
The third book is called Smoke and Ashes and it literally begins with , well, smoke and ashes. Throughout the other two books, Sam’s opium addiction continues and the third book begins with him in an opium den. What follows this shocking introduction turns even more shocking when there is a surprise raid on the opium den. Hiding from his own people, Sam stumbles across a dead body but is too much in a rush to even pay attention to it. When the body disappears the next day, and Sam is called to investigate another dead body, killed in a similar manner, to his horror, he realizes that there is a serial killer on the loose in Calcutta.
Death in the East has the beautiful backdrop of chilly and lush Assam, where Sam has gone to get rid of his opium addiction. The book takes place across two timelines. One of Sam as a young constable and the other one in the present. However, the two of them soon come close together and match each other when an enemy from the past returns, and Sam is hell bent on revenge. This is a particularly beautiful book, where the huge expanse of greenery is depicted in a manner which is most beautiful.
The Shadows of Men is the latest in the Sam Wyndham mystery series. Set in 1923, the story takes place at the height of growing nationalism in India. Sam and Surendranath investigate the death of a theologian, before Calcutta begins an all out religious war. I have not read this book; however I do hear it is quite nice. This is one of the only books which even has both the characters go up to Bombay all the way across the other part of the country. I really cannot wait to delve into Sam and Surendranath’s world again with these books.
My thoughts on the series
I love these books. They are fast paced and full of intrigue. The characters and the setting are what I love the most. However, as per my opinion, I do believe that a lot more attention is given to Sam instead of Surendranath. Of course , he is the main character of the series though Mukherjee has given Surendranath a better character arc and greater complexities.
The books are a good read for teenagers. However, I do believe that sometimes the storyline does turn out a bit dark, but , it is always all’s well that ends well.
The books would also evoke a curiosity about British rule and about our history in the minds of the young teenagers who read it.
- The Sam Wyndham Mystery series by Abir Mukherjee.
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