(Plug alert: my latest novel, what it’s about, and some background)
Some of you who’ve been reading this blog for a while—or who know something of what I write about besides classic cinema—probably know by now that I am also the creator of a fictional 17th century Mughal detective named Muzaffar Jang. Muzaffar first appeared in a short story in a collection of South Asian women’s writing, called 21 Under 40. I had, however, already half-written a novel featuring this protagonist, and that book, set in the summer of 1656, went on to become the first full-length Muzaffar Jang novel, The Englishman’s Cameo, published by Hachette India in 2008.
Seven years later, and here I am, at the fourth book of the series.
A lot of water has flowed under the bridge, both for me and for Muzaffar. Muzaffar started off in The Englishman’s Cameo as a 25-year old Mughal nobleman, a maverick (‘with friends in low places’, as my editor described it) with a love for coffee, books, and nature. Single, with a long-ago romance (he was jilted) still rankling, but without a love in sight. Much attached to his elder sister Zeenat Begum (who also brought up Muzaffar) and her husband, the Kotwal or chief law officer, of Dilli.
Crimson City was named for Dilli. Not only because Shahjahanabad, the city that Shahjahan built here after he shifted the Imperial capital from Agra, used a lot of red sandstone, but because this city—and the Empire it represented—was by this time blood-stained. Shahjahan had squandered most of the resources of what had once been one of the wealthiest courts in the world: his building projects, his love for jewels and beauty and other expensive extravagances had depleted the treasury to such an extent that the Empire was searching desperately for new (and prosperous) territories to annex. The Deccan was picked out, and by early 1657, Aurangzeb and Mir Jumla (the latter the Diwan-i-Kul, or Prime Minister, of Shahjahan) had besieged the Fort of Bidar.
I wondered: what would Dilli, so many hundreds of kos from Bidar and the action there, be like in 1657? I envisaged a city where rumours ran rife. Where some would be skeptical about the Empire’s ability to survive, and some perhaps gung-ho, cheering on the conquering heroes. For much of the general populace, though, I thought, that faraway war would be just that: faraway. Life would, for the time being, remain pretty much unaffected. Work would go on. There would be births and marriages and deaths.
The latter two motifs—marriage and death—play an important part in Crimson City. Muzaffar’s marriage to Shireen (whom he first met in the last story of The Eighth Guest & Other Muzaffar Jang Mysteries, and whom he married in Engraved in Stone) is still new, and my hero needs to adjust a lot. Not just to the heady feeling of being newlywed, but also to discovering things he hadn’t known about Shireen before.
… and there’s death. A cloth merchant, Aadil, is found stabbed to death in his house, which is in Muzaffar’s mohallah. And Khan Sahib, the Kotwal (and Muzaffar’s brother-in-law), who has always been supportive of Muzaffar before, even inviting his assistance, is suddenly antagonistic. The strain of upholding the law in an increasingly wild city has taken its toll, and Khan Sahib warns Muzaffar off: do not interfere.
But the deaths begin to pile up. And the mysteries. Some, surely unconnected to the first killing. Some uncannily like it to be coincidences.
What will Muzaffar do? Will he stand by and let the law try its fumbling best (now this begins to sound like a Hindi film, where the cops are always far more inept than the hero…). Or will he, Hindi film hero style, jump in and do what’s right, even if it’s liable to get him into trouble?
Most important of all, what lies behind the series of killings in Muzaffar’s mohallah?
Read for yourself. Crimson City is now available for pre-order online at Amazon India, Flipkart and Infibeam; it will soon be available in brick-and-mortar stores as well. Digital versions and overseas copies will be available within the near future too.
And, to whet your appetite, the book trailer:
Plus, the revised covers of The Englishman’s Cameo and The Eighth Guest & Other Muzaffar Jang Mysteries, both redesigned so that the books now look like a series.
If you are at all interested in history (or if you know anybody who is), read this series—and tell me what you think!
Last but not least: please, please spread the word. Share this post, tweet about it, tell your friends.