Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Hodder Stoughton
Publication Date: November 2nd, 2021
Pages: 352, hardcover
India’s first female police detective, Persis Wadia, is summoned to the 150-year-old Bombay Royal Asiatic Society at Horniman Circle. The society’s preeminent treasure, a priceless manuscript of Dante’s Divine Comedy, has vanished, as has the society’s head curator, William Huxley, an Englishman with a passion for Indian history.
Tasked to recover an item for which Benito Mussolini once offered one million pounds, Persis soon uncovers a series of murders, and a trail of tantalising coded clues that lead her into the dark heart of conspiracy…
Set in 1950s post-Partition and post-colonial India, The Dying Day by Vaseem Khan features a unique protagonist. Persis Wadia is the first female police detective in India. This is her second outing in the series, and features a DaVinci Code-esque hunt for a copy of The Divine Comedy, which has been stolen from the Bombay’s Asiatic Society archives by an English researcher.
Khan does a great job showing the effects of Partition and independence on post-WWII India and the impact on both Indians and colonists. Persis, daughter of a well-known Parsee Bombay bookseller, is the first and only female detective on the police force. She is called upon to solve two cases – the first is the missing manuscript, and the other is the death of a white woman found on the railroad tracks. She finds that old sins cast long shadows, and that events from the previous decade are still causing problems in the new.
Persis encounters an old flame, while trying to decide whether to pursue a relationship with an English forensic scientist. She is also commanded, by her boss to speak at a women’s event, but Persis does not consider herself a trailblazer, and has no desire to call attention upon herself as a example of “the new woman.”
Khan is the author of the Inspector Chopra series, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. Persis has a strong voice, and has a solid core, much like Chopra. Also much like Chopra at the beginning of his series, she is in transition, and trying to find her place in an unfamiliar role as her society changes around her.
The one thing I didn’t care for in the novel was the reappearance of Persis’s old flame. He seemed more of a throwaway, swooping in like a deus ex machina, when Persis was demonstrating that she was well able to take care of herself. He didn’t really add anything to the story for me.
Khan also recaps enough of the first book, Murder at Malabar House that readers will not feel like they’re missing backstory if they haven’t read it.
This fresh new series, set in a period and country not often found in mystery series, is recommended.