Saturday, July 15, 2006

Still Burning Bright

One of the many pleasures delivered by Barbara Cleverly’s books about Scotland Yard detective Joe Sandilands, who is enjoying a long stay in India after being wounded in World War I, is the way they bring back memories of favorite books and films. Her third effort in this excellent series begins in the cool and stately mountain resort of Simla made famous in The Jewel in the Crown and then moves into a dangerous environment of high adventure where wild animals attack at will.

A tiger with a taste for humans is frightening the mango chutney out of the inhabitants of the princely state of Ranipur, so Joe and an experienced hunter named Edgar Troop are asked to join a party tracking it down. Sandilands begins to suspect there’s more to the invitation when he’s offered not only a fine hunting rifle but also a pistol much more suited to shooting humans.

Ranipur turns out to be a mysterious and dangerous place: the old Maharajah is dying, and his oldest son has been killed by a panther. Then a second son dies violently, and it’s up to Joe and his companion to protect the remaining 12-year-old heir from other ambitious denizens of the palace and an untrustworthy chief of police.

Cleverly’s research brings even the most exotic places and people to full credibility, and she balances her ingredients – including a steamy dose of romance -- with the skill and imagination of a master chef.