At approximately 5.17pm on 30th January 1948, one of the most famous men in history stepped out into the gardens of Birla House in New Delhi to lead a prayer service. As he approached a public congregation a young man stepped out from the crowd, greeted him warmly, then shot him three times in the chest with a Beretta. Onlookers said that Gandhi’s last words were ‘Hey, Ram’… meaning ‘Oh, God.’
Gandhi’s death, in many ways, fashioned the India that was to follow, and, thus, the India that we see today. For more than two decades, he had led the Congress Party in its struggle to oust the British from the subcontinent. Through his blazing idealism, and personal example, he had inspired millions of his countrymen into peaceful protest.
Following his death, his friend and comrade, Jawaharlal Nehru, became the first Prime Minister of India. Taking advantage of the sympathy generated by Gandhi’s murder, he swept aside all opposition and set about fashioning post-Independence India.
It is in this turbulent, troubled India that my novel, Midnight at Malabar House, is set.
The book opens on Dec 31st, 1949, Bombay.
In a basement office, a phone rings. It’s picked up by Persis Wadia, India’s first female police detective. She’s based at Malabar House, a small police station in the affluent southern half of the city, where officers in bad odour are routinely banished. Persis has just spent two gruelling years training for her role – only to find that in the rigidly paternalistic and misogynistic India of the time she faces an uphill task in making any headway in her chosen career.
But the midnight call changes everything.
The caller reports the murder of prominent English diplomat Sir James Herriot… and, just like that, the country’s most sensational case falls into her lap.
As 1950 dawns and India prepares to become the world’s largest republic, Persis, accompanied by Scotland Yard criminalist Archie Blackfinch, finds herself pursuing an investigation that becomes more political by the second. Navigating a society in turmoil, Persis, smart, stubborn and untested in the crucible of male hostility that surrounds her, must find a way to solve the murder – whatever the cost.
Midnight at Malabar House is set just two years after Indian Independence, the horrors of Partition, and Gandhi’s assassination. India is still trying to work out what sort of democracy it is going to be. Social, political, and religious turmoil is rife in the country. Nehru’s economic reforms are pitting the old nawabs, maharajas, and feudal classes against the masses. Yet Bombay remains in its own bubble, incredibly cosmopolitan, a city of jazz and self-indulgence, with thousands of foreigners still living and working in the city.
Much of the India that we see today is grounded in events that occurred during that period, a period not often explored in fiction. Midnight at Malabar House attempts to shed light on that India.
Of course, at the book’s heart lies a complex mystery. Why was Sir James Herriot murdered? What do the various clues that Persis finds in his home mean? Her attempts to solve the murder soon lead her into conflict, not just with the establishment, and the prevailing social order, but with those who would seek to brush under the carpet the horrors of India’s fractious birth.
Not a woman to be easily deterred, Persis forges her own path into the darkness.
And as for Gandhi – why and who killed him?
Gandhi’s murderer was a Hindu nationalist named Nathuram Godse. He committed the murder because he felt that Gandhi had done too much to appease the Muslims in the newly-created country of Pakistan. It was neither the first nor the last religiously-motivated killing on the subcontinent.
If you choose to order the book, I would greatly appreciate it. Copies are available from bookshops big and small, and online, incl. here: https://amzn.to/2Q0AXNK
And to show my appreciation, if you tweet (or Facebook) me a picture of yourself with the book – or a picture of the book in your home (if you prefer not to be in the picture) – I shall pick the most creative ‘winner’ and send them a signed copy (with a personal message) of BAD DAY AT THE VULTURE CLUB – my last novel from the Baby Ganesh Agency series. You can find me on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/VaseemKhanUK and Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/VaseemKhanOfficial/
Deadline: August 31st 2020
Join my newsletter: https://vaseemkhan.com/book-club/