banno, dhanno and teja in bumm-bumm-bhole-land

the eighth guest (2011)

The best detective stories are those that also detail lifestyles. Satyajit Ray’s Feluda stories are interesting not only because of the mysteries themselves but because of Feluda himself, his nephew Tapash and friend Jatayu, their travels together through India and the people they meet, the details of life in Kolkata and also in the country they wander, games of chess, Feluda’s interest in science, Jatayu’s flight of imaginations and the success of the cheap detective thrillers that he writes.

The same goes for Agatha Christie’s stories, they take you through a time in Britain’s history, through the life in its cities and countryside, and echoing her own interests, Christie also takes you sometimes to Egypt and other archaeological sites, the world of shipping liners and luxury cruises, and holiday towns.

After all, human emotions remain the same, and murders or thefts are committed for the same reasons – love, betrayal, jealousy, envy, anger, resentment, revenge. It is only the quirks of individual characters and their backgrounds that make the mysteries come alive.

Madhulika Liddle brings her penchant for old films, old monuments, birds and travels into her Muzaffar Jang stories.

When I first met Muzaffar Jang in ‘The Englishman’s Cameo’, I thought he was definitely a brainwave of the best kind. A young, handsome nobleman, an amateur detective, a murder mystery and the flavor of the Mughal era, what more could one want?

The pleasure of reading ‘The Englishman’s Cameo’ is multiplied in Madhulika Liddle’s latest collection of Muzaffar Jang stories, ‘The Eighth Guest and other Muzaffar Jang mysteries’. The format of the short story allows Madhulika to explore many more facets of Mughal life through Muzaffar Jang’s adventures with criminals. We see mad elephants, water baoris, dhobhis and dancing girls, wandering royal camps, rare manuscripts and wild parties, the life of the zenana and the court, itinerant merchants and sarais, elaborate gardens and the dust of Dilli.

There are other characters who people Muzaffar’s life, his older sister Zeenat Begum, her husband Kotwal Sahib, his dandy friend Akram, and his boatman friend Salim.

Muzaffar himself is not like most noblemen, because he has friends from all walks of life. He is clever and friendly, but not too sociable in the acceptable way. His special friend is the old boatman Salim, with whom he shares an easy, bantering rapport.

By creating this persona of Muzaffar, Madhulika also lends her own voice to the iniquities of the Mughal feudal life. For instance she tells us of the ranis complaining about traveling in camps, oblivious to the hardships of the people who carry them, their vast tents and their belongings. In so many subtle ways, Madhulika brings out the class system, the value of life when it belongs to a noble person and when the life is that of a person serving the nobility in one way or the other.

She also takes certain historical figures like the court painter Bichitr, and creates stories around them.

For anyone who is fascinated by Mughal monuments, clothes, way of life, these detective stories are a pleasure to read. They take the slightly familiar, what we have known through history books, old ruins and old films (not always accurate) and makes it a little more familiar. Yet the details are not overwhelming or romanticized. They remain part of the stories, and this is where Madhulika’s success most lies. She lends a contemporary voice to an old world. You forget the 2000′s for a while and are back in 1656, the time of Shahjahan’s reign with Muzaffar Jang.

Madhulika’s blog has for a while been one of my favorites. I can only wish that she is as prolific with her Muzaffar Jang stories, because they are books which one will pick up again and again, simply, yet competently written and delightful.

Go buy now.

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23 comments on “the eighth guest (2011)

  1. kateshrewsday
    September 10, 2011

    You know, I think I shall :-)

    • Banno
      September 10, 2011

      Kate, I hope you do buy it and enjoy it.

  2. dustedoff
    September 10, 2011

    Oh, my goodness – Banno, you are too kind! Thank you so much. :-) I’m really, really glad you enjoyed the book. Incidentally, yours is the first proper review I’ve come across, so it’s getting filed away right now. Thank you for the encouragement – you have no idea what it means to me, coming from someone who writes as well as you do.

    • Banno
      September 11, 2011

      You are welcome, dustedoff. As I said on FB, you made so many days pleasurable with your stories. I hope that you are able to use the review somewhere. :)

  3. memsaab
    September 12, 2011

    My copy is on its way, or will be soon (via my dear Suhan) :) I can’t wait to read it.

    • Banno
      September 12, 2011

      Memsaab, I am sure you will enjoy it. :)

  4. harveypam
    September 12, 2011

    That makes me feel so left out. don’t know when I am going to get my copy. Maybe for Christmas!
    Banno dear, you have written the review so well! Great! Nice wording and all!

    • Banno
      September 12, 2011

      Thanks Harvey. Can’t you buy it online?

  5. dipali
    September 12, 2011

    I loved The Englishman’s Cameo, and have just ordered The Eighth Guest, Banno-thanks for both the recommendation and the link! Flipkart is my new best friend these days:)
    The post itself was beautifully written- there was such a wealth of background detailing in those old detective stories.(I remember gazing in utmost fascination at the old Cataract
    Hotel, where Agatha Christie and her archeologist husband used to stay during their digs when we were in Egypt last year-it feels like a lifetime ago).

    • Banno
      September 12, 2011

      Oh Dipali, lucky you! I have been so fascinated by Agatha Christie’s autobiography.

      I am sure you will enjoy ‘The Eighth Guest’.

      • dipali
        September 15, 2011

        Loving it. So much so that housework is suffering!

        • Banno
          September 16, 2011

          I am sure the SRE is not thanking Madhulika. :)

          • dipali
            September 16, 2011

            Luckily for him he was travelling- got in last night :)

  6. Unmana
    September 12, 2011

    I so loved the Englishman’s cameo. Adding this to my wishlist right now and will buy it in my next round at Flipkart.

    • Banno
      September 12, 2011

      Definitely, Unmana, you will love it.

  7. dustedoff
    September 13, 2011

    And may I say a very special thank you to all of you who’ve been saying they liked The Englishman’s Cameo? Thank you! – And I do hope you enjoy The Eighth Guest.

  8. dipali
    September 15, 2011

    Enjoying it thoroughly. Please write lots more Muzaffar Jung stories :)

    • Banno
      September 16, 2011

      Hear, hear.

    • dustedoff
      September 16, 2011

      Well, then: you’ll be glad to know – the second novel (which forms the sequel to The Eighth Guest) is already written and with the publisher. :-) It’s still about a year away from publication, but it’s there.

      And I’m currently writing the sequel to that.

      • Banno
        September 16, 2011

        Hurray!

        • dipali
          September 19, 2011

          Yayyyy ! Most excellent news!

          • Sue
            September 23, 2011

            Wonderful! I loved ‘The Englishman’s Cameo’ too.

            Banno, last night, the gentleman who played Jatayu in the new movies (and played it well despite the long shadow of the original Jatayu), well, he passed away. Your post reminded me of that. I was a bit sad to think the movies will no longer have him.

            • Banno
              September 23, 2011

              Sue, I don’t know whether I have seen any new Feluda movies. I only remember the Ray ones. And Jatayu in those. He certainly cast a long shadow.

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