Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter

The year is 1937.  William Avery has found himself in India in the Army, sent there by a poor relationship with his father and his fascination with the novels of Xavier Mountstaurt who writes of the romance of the continent.  But India is not what he expected.  It is hot and dirty and crowded and it seems that not much is the same as the stories he read predicted. 

Then the rumors start to mount.  Xavier has gone missing; he hasn't been seen or heard from in months.  He was working on his epic; a book about the Thuggee cult, that murderous group who delighted in killing travelers and dedicating their bloody deeds to Kali.  Has Mountstaurt been captured or killed by the Thuggees?  Is he lost, wandering through the endless jungle terrain with its strangler vines? 

Through a series of events, Avery is chosen to accompany the Company's man, Jeremiah Blake, in a small group formed to try to find Mountstuart.  Avery is appalled the more he is around Blake, who is the antithesis of everything he expects a Company man to be.  Blake seldom speaks, at least to Avery, although he holds long conversations with their Indian guides.  He dresses in native costume and seems to prefer speaking the local dialects.  What little conversation they have shows Avery that Blake is not impressed with him considers Avery to be little more than a catspaw of the military and Company.

Along their journey, the pair see much of India.  There are strange foods and customs.  They visit a compound in the heart of Thuggee territory and hear what the commander there is doing to crush the cult.  They visit the court of a Rajah and go on a tiger hunt.  As they travel, they hear many rumors about their quarry, but can't seem to find him.  Have they been sent on an impossible mission?

M.J. Carter has written a superb book, full of adventure and meticulously researched.  The reader is transported to India and discovers its magic and mystery along with Lt. Avery.  The truth of the mission and country are slowly revealed as the quest unfolds.  This book was longlisted for the 2014 Bailey's Women's Prize For Fiction and was a finalist for the CWA John Creasy Dagger Award.  It is recommended for readers of historical fiction. 

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