Tuesday 19 March 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of A Greater God by Brian Stoddart

"This is a complex story, but Stoddart’s writing is so convincing I felt I was not only watching what was happening, I was involved. "


mystery / crime

1920s / India Independence partition

Using the medium of historical crime fiction, Brian Stoddart’s Superintendent Le Fanu novels relate a critical time in the decline and fall of the British Raj in India. This book in particular highlights the circumstances and type of events leading up to Independence and the awful tragedy of ‘Partition’. 

A Greater God is Book 4 in the series and set in 1920s Madras. There is mounting tension between Hindus and Muslims, but the Raj is too busy keeping up appearances to investigate the sources of the trouble effectively or prevent further outrages. Le Fanu has returned from a stint in the Straits Settlements to be met with problems and opposition on multiple fronts: there are increasingly violent confrontations between Muslims and Hindus, which in turn are exacerbated by the attitude of the ‘authorities’, represented by a bloated Blimp of an Englishman called Jepson, who epitomises the very worst aspects of the Raj. Jepson’s mental health clearly demonstrates he needs to be replaced, but his superiors are reluctant to act, not least because they passively agree with his appalling arrogance and racism. 

Adding to Le Fanu’s troubles is his dilemma over which woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with: Roisin McPhedren, to whom he was nearly, or unofficially engaged, but who now lies gravely ill in hospital, or his new love, the Chinese Jenlin Koh, who is apparently on her way to Madras to join him – although there are serious complications here, too.

This is a complex story, but Stoddart’s writing is so convincing I felt I was not only watching what was happening, I was involved. If I have a criticism it is that we only see events through Le Fanu’s eyes, meaning we cannot appreciate how others might see him or what is happening, and there are very few moments of light relief. But this is quality fiction not light reading, an intense story told in a serious manner that should appeal to anyone interested in the final years of the Raj and Swaraj.

© J.G. Harlond

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