The Murder Of The Maharajah by H R F Keating

Murder of the Maharajah1930, India under the British Raj. People are congregating on the opulent Summer Palace of Bhopore to meet the Maharajah and his entourage – the heir to the throne, his mistress, his chief minister and the British Resident. But the Maharajah’s sense of humour is an acquired taste – his love of practical jokes, both blatant and subtle, isn’t making him any friends.

After an eventful dinner, the next morning the party head out on a hunting exhibition – but a gun backfires and his highness Maharajahdhiraj Raj Rajeshwar Lieutenant Sri Sri Sri Sahib Bahadur Mahapundit Mahasurma Sir Albert Singhji, Grand Commander Of The Order Of The Star Of India, Grand Commander Of The Order Of The Indian Empire, Doctor Of Literature (Benares), Maharajah of Bhopore lies dead. But it was no accident…

My third entry for Past Offences #1980book Crimes Of The Century (still time to join in) – so far, there’s not been a great deal of success. Monk’s Hood wasn’t my cup of tea at all and A Killing Kindness shows that one great idea does not make a great mystery. So how was this one?

H R F Keating was a prolific author, although I’m having trouble locating a complete bibliography online. He was President of the Detection Club, that most eminent of bodies, from 1985-2000, and won the CWA Gold Dagger twice. Once for The Perfect Murder (featuring his recurring sleuth Inspector Ghote) and for this one. So it’s bound to be good, yes? And look at that quote on the cover – “A classic whodunit in the tradition of Agatha Christie’s Death On The Nile“. So even more evidence of the quality, surely?

Hmm… maybe I’m being a little harsh here – there’s a lot to like. The opening section leading up to the murder and the denouement are very entertaining reads. Keating has a lightness to his writing (in these sections) and it bounces along very nicely. As with Death On The Nile, there’s a good range of suspects.

Unfortunately, the middle section sags. It’s slow and the wit seems to less in evidence in these sections. The insistence of there only being five suspects seemed forced to me, as there are a number of simple ways for a killer to get round this problem that were basically ignored.

It picks up in the denouement and it is a fairly clued mystery – although nothing on the level of Death On The Nile. Basically, if you spot something, then you’ll know who the killer is. As is often the case, this would have worked well as a novella,  but the middle section, as I said, slows everything down.

What does it say about the year it was written? Not a lot, as it’s set in 1930, but the India of the book does seem to smack of the stereotype that was on television at the time, but it may be perfectly authentic – I’ve never been to India (especially not in 1930) so it could be totally authentic.

Anyway, the book is Worth a Look, but I’m baffled as to how it won the Gold Dagger.

Oh, and ignore Wikipedia – the book doesn’t feature Inspector Ghote, partly as he didn’t possess a time machine…

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18 comments

  1. “I’ve never been to India (especially not in 1930) so it could be totally authentic.”

    H R F Keating was famous for not having been to India either. I think he’d been by the time he wrote this one, but the first half dozen or so were written purely from research. Weirdly, those early ones feel a lot more authentic. There’s whole books to be written about how authenticity in writing has very little to do with actual verifiable details about the real world. It’s fascinating.

    I’m helping someone with an Indian police procedural at the moment. He’s British Indian, so more qualified than Keating, and one of the hardest things is identifying what needs to be explained to Western audiences and what doesn’t. Although it can feel stereotypical now, Indian English dialect of the 30s was a lot easier to wrangle into novel form than modern Indian English.

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    • Um… probably a very mild spoiler but his father makes an appearance. He’s not the sleuth, though. That’s DSP Howard, whose such an exciting character that I completely forgot to mention him in the review.

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  2. Sigh, I had high hopes when I saw that you were about to review this title – thanks to the comment comparing it with Agatha Christie. Have you read other titles by Keating, and would they live up to that comparison? I’ve heard good things about murders in billiard rooms, etc.

    (P.S. Do allow me to hijack this message and ask if you have any Michael Innes reviews up your sleeve anytime soon?)

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  3. Keating himself did not like this book as mentioned in the book H.R.F. Keating, Post-colonial Detection: A Critical Study by Meera Tamaya. I quote from an interview of Keating by Tamaya in the book:
    Tamaya: Which is your least favourite book? Which did you think was your worst novel?
    Keating: For different reasons, my least favourite books are The Murder Of The Maharajah and Go West, Inspector Ghote. The Murder Of The Maharajah was written much too fast, at what I thought was a superficial level……..
    …………
    …………
    Tamaya: You’re saying you didn’t like The Murder Of The Maharajah because you didn’t work too much on it……….
    Keating: Well, yes, yes. You know I feel it is wrong for a book to be good unless you’ve done a lot of actual work on it.

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