From British journalist Campbell, an intricate, fascinating look at some long-forgotten episodes in the quest by European powers to control India.
In August 1997, the Swiss Bankers Association issued a list naming some 1,800 holders of dormant accounts. Paging through the list on a computer in his newspaper’s office, Campbell’s eye was caught by one of those names: “Duleep Singh, Catherine (Princess), last heard of in 1942 living in Penn, Bucks.” On the hunt for a story, the journalist had the bright idea of creating news by reuniting the Singh family with its inheritance—inasmuch as the original Duleep Singh had given the fabulous Koh-i-Noor diamond to Queen Victoria, it stood to reason that the Swiss safe-deposit box contained jewels, or gold, or at the very least the deed to some rich property. Campbell’s quest took him down dozens of blind alleys, each knee-deep in red herrings, always leading back to the mysterious Maharajah Duleep Singh, “last king of the Sikhs,” who lived out his days in the second half of the 19th century as an exile in the Suffolk countryside, having lost his beloved Punjab through a combination of his own perfidy and England’s imperial machinations. The story is populated by characters that could only have come from the Victorian era’s large cast of eccentrics: the Maharajah himself, at once betrayed and traitorous; the mysterious General Carroll-Teviss, “a Philadelphia-born soldier of fortune who served a succession of popes, beys, and kings”; Levantine-Russian secret agents; and August Theodor Schoefft, “a cheroot-smoking Hungarian,” among them. Campbell’s investigation takes in imperial intrigues, intra-clan rivalries, intrafamilial homicides, mystical prophecies, and the long-thwarted dreams of Sikh independence as it delivers a satisfying if sometimes confusing story complicated enough to have come from the pen of le Carré.
And what did the box contain? You’ll need to read this absorbing detective story to find out.