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Sunday, 3 November 2013
‘Mystery in Malakand’ by Susanna Bell
Published by Attica Books, 2013.
This book opens in Peshawar at the foot of the Khyber Pass in 1920 where Hester Metcalfe works as a nurse in the local hospital. She was brought up in British India and went to England as the Great War broke out. After the death of her husband in that war she returned to India and worked as a nurse in the local hospital. She is in the hospital in Peshawar when the body of murdered British officer Major Bartlett is brought in. She does not reveal that this was her lover but resolves to discover who the murderer was.
Hester is well acquainted with many locals and speaks local languages so it is not difficult for her to consider investigating; indeed, the Chief Commissioner is pleased to recruit her for a mission to go out into the mountains of Malakand to make contact with a mysterious figure known as the Faqir.
The background of this book is lovingly described and gives the reader a real idea of the perilous beauty of the mountains around Peshawar and the totally alien attitudes of the local tribesmen. It is certainly possible to see parallels between the 1920s and today!
The story twists and turns as Hester pursues her mission but only at the end does she find any sort of solution. This is a very different take on the 1920s - I can only think of the early Barbara Cleverley books set in India as comparable. Hester is a worthy heroine whose responses to the area which she can appreciate as someone brought up there are
also indicative of the enormous gulf between British and tribal viewpoints.
Reviewer: Jennifer S. Palmer
This is Susanna Bell's first novel but she is planning more to reflect her own considerable travels.
Susanna Bell was born in 1970. She travelled widely as a child, living in Germany, the US and the UK, spending her school years in wilder parts of the English Lake District. She studied history at Cambridge before joining the British Foreign Service in her mid twenties. Since then, her career has taken her to Poland, Iraq and Pakistan; she spent a few months in Jerusalem helping a documentary team, and learnt Arabic at universities in Oman and Pakistan. She is currently living in London and Lincolnshire. Her travels have been the inspiration for her novels, in which she hopes to capture some of the excitement of the unknown and the complexities of life as an Englishwoman abroad.
Jennifer Palmer Throughout my reading life crime fiction has been a constant interest; I really enjoyed my 15 years as an expatriate in the Far East, the Netherlands & the USA but occasionally the solace of closing my door to the outside world and sitting reading was highly therapeutic. I now lecture to adults on historical topics including Famous Historical Mysteries.