Thursday, March 04, 2010

Book Review - The Englishman's Cameo

Three murders in a row and an innocent man in jail. Not a story many of us have not heard of in times such as these, but wait, no hasty conclusions please, until you have joined Muzaffar Jang, our erstwhile, aristocrat detective in his search to find the real murderer of all three.

And God forbid, if there is more than one killer….

Muzaffer Jang is an aristocrat in Shahjahan’s Dilli but is humble enough to have friends among the lesser mortals. One such, Faisal, has been put behind bars for the murder of Mirza Murad Begh, who was at one time a wealthy landlord. Apparently given to the guiles of the most beautiful courtesan – Mehtab Banu, it is not really clear where his money is wasted and why and therefore, it is suspected that his coffers are emptying themselves at the feet of Mehtab Banu.

So was it then, the irresistible Mehtab Banu, who was behind the murder? Why not? But then, if she was, why did she herself eat that paan that seemed to have done Murad Begh in?

Lusting after every man, of handsome features and jingling pockets, Mehtab Banu had not ceased to distract Muzaffer Jang as well – “This woman would make a man forget his very self.” But Muzaffer Jang was not a man with a weak heart, so easily given. He was a man with a mission to find the killer of Murad Begh, so that his poor friend could be released.

For Muzaffer Jang, being a detective was not a profession. But an obsession that kept him chasing the murder story, even at the risk of his own life.

However, he was not the only one on the chase. His brother-in-law, Farid Khan, the Kotwal of Shahjahanabad, (now purani Dilli) already had his hands on the case – Yusuf Hasan, his trusted assistant had been chasing the case religiously. And yet, it is Muzaffer Jang, the Reader joins in his relentless search for truth. Through havelis and mansions, galis and ghats, through Dilli and Bihar, even to the Mehramgarh, past many suspects – man and women alike, desi and videshi sailors and dealers, the Reader rushes through alleys and allies, friend and foe, to arrive at one of the most important lead – The Englishman’s Cameo. Who is the culprit? What is the motive? Whodunit? Read all and everything, in an amazing piece of literature, The Englishman’s Cameo.

The story is set in the era of 1627 – 1658, when the fifth Mughal emperor, Shahjahan had shifted his capital from Agra to Delhi and created what is today purani Dilli – which was called Shajahanabad, around the Red Fort, Dilli, with all its nawabi grandeur.

Madhulika Liddle’s The English Cameo, is not only a detective story, but is steeped in paragraph after paragraph with descriptive literature which can make any Reader, who loves good writing and the luxury of words that describe a situation or a thing in such exquisite fashion, coo with delight. Over and above it is a well researched book placed in an authentic part of Mughal history.

“ Murad Begh’s haveli was a sprawling mansion of grey quartzite embellished with red sandstone and even a few stray inlays in white marble. The fa├žade of the house, a series of beautifully cusped arches, shone through the screen of neem trees that framed it….”

Such exquisite language dots the 278 pages of the novel throughout. Add to that a nosy, stickler for facts and figures of the murder mystery, Muzaffer Jang and what you get is an Editor, who got so absorbed in the tale that the last few pages which could have been tightened to make for a one-two-three-and you-are-caught kind of quick ending, escaped her mind.

Publisher: Hachette India, 612/614 (6th Floor), Time Tower, MG Road, Sector 28, Gurgaon – 122001. India Website:
Author: Madhulika Liddle
Pages: 278; Price: Rs 295
Available at all major Book Shops across India and on and
About the author: Madhulika Liddle lives in Delhi and has worked in hospitality, advertising and instructional design. Her stories have won several awards, including the top prize at the 2003 Commonwealth Short Story Competition. This is her first novel.

Read more reviews:


Mridula said...

A period thriller, now that sounds like a good read.

I am also reading a murder mystery at the moment called Black and Blue.

Julia Dutta said...

Hi Mridula,
Lovely to see you again. Yes, it is a lovely read and not only that, I believe that the next book - manuscript's just been submitted to Hachette, and is a set of short stories, starting just after when The Englishman's Cameo ends, and then going a few months further in Muzaffar's life...

If you find any difficulty find The Englishman's Cameo in bookstores,which I doubt as Hachette is in Gurgaon only, you can order it online (flipkart or oxfordbookstore, for example): you even get a discount. ;-)

zoya gautam said...

hi julia ,

the passage that u quote is wonderful ..

surely bhaalo aacho ,

till then ..

Amrita said...

I love reading whodunits, but rightn now I am into biographies. Thinking of doing a review on one of them.

Your review is great.

Julia Dutta said...

Dear Zoya,

Thank you for reading....this Bengali coming from you makes me curious...and interested to know who this great poet is :-)

Julia Dutta said...

Hi Amrita,

Thanks for dropping by. The book is lovely. I will wait to read yours. You are a fabulous writer yourself!

zoya gautam said...

hi julia ,

i grate poetry for sure -

in official records i spelt my name as : gautama mookherjea / (looks stupid now )

/ my parents use the traditional - mukerjee

_ being a probaashi bongo ,(ashamed to confess ) that my ' bangla ' sounds abraded _ tobuo, thankfully banglaar taan ta jayeni _[ bah ! what an autobiography ]

with apologies to ur readers & to u,

till the next time ..

Julia Dutta said...


What a nice confession. Bangals never lose their tongue - it is so guttural. My grand parents were from Sylhet too and my mother was born there although they moved to Shillong in 1936. I was not taught Sylheti but picked it up on the sly and can speak it too, with a Bangla accent and my tongue gets tied too, I must confess!

Amrita said...

Dear Julia, I did a short devotional on my blog , you might be interested