The ruler of the princely state of Rajpore fancies himself a superior sleuth.
His Highness Maharaja Sikander Singh greets the new year of 1909 with a good deal of ennui and a major headache. But his day is brightened when he learns of the murder of Maj. William Russell, the British Resident for Rajpore. Because he disliked the major, a self-righteous martinet, the murder provides Sikander with nothing more stressful than a pretty puzzle to solve. Both Police Superintendent Jardine and Magistrate Lowry try their best to shrug off Sikander. Although His Highness is British-educated, extremely clever, and wealthy beyond belief, the British regard him as a dark-skinned inferior. Despite their opposition, he persists in examining the body and taking samples of the wine Russell had drunk. Although Jardine would like to think Russell’s death was suicide, it’s obvious to Sikander that Russell died an agonizing death from poison, most likely strychnine. The British refuse to let Sikander’s excellent Indian doctor view the body, which is quickly cremated, but no obstacles will deter Sikander from continuing his investigation. He soon learns that Russell was far from what he appeared to be. Malfeasance and cruelty to women were just a few of his sins. Although many people had excellent reasons to hate Russell, Sikander continues to track down the reasons that might have led the dead man’s secretary, his friend Lowry, the brother of a prostitute he drove to suicide, or a beautiful young Englishwoman and her husband to murder him. In the end, he stages a denouement in the style of Agatha Christie to reveal what he’s learned.
The first in a planned trilogy featuring the sleuthing prince is a well-executed mystery in the classic British mold presented from a very un-British viewpoint and packed with fascinating details about life among the Anglo-Indian upper class during the heyday of the Raj.