Lieutenant Victor Narraway walked across the square in the cool evening air. It was mid-December, a couple of weeks before Christmas. At home in England it might already be snowing, but here in India there would not even be a frost. No one had ever seen snow in Cawnpore. Any other year it would be a wonderful season: one of rejoicing, recalling happy memories of the past, and looking forward to the future, perhaps with a little nostalgia for those loved ones who were far away.
But this year of 1857 was different. The fire of mutiny had scorched across the land, touching everything with death.
He came to the outer door of one of the least-damaged parts of the barracks and knocked. Immediately it was opened and he stepped inside. Oil lamps sent a warming yellow light over the battered walls and the few remnants of the once-secure occupation, as they had been before the siege and then its relief. There was little furniture left whole: a bullet-scarred desk, three chairs that had seen better days, a bookcase and several cupboards, one with only half a door.
Colonel Latimer was standing in the middle of the room. He was a tall and spare man well into his forties; a dozen Indian summers had burned his skin brown, but there was little color beneath it to alleviate the weariness and the marks of exhaustion. He regarded the twenty-year-old lieutenant in front of him with something like an apologetic look.
“I have an unpleasant duty for you, Narraway,” he said quietly. “It must be done, and done well. You’re new to this regiment, but you have an excellent record. You are the right man for this job.”
Narraway felt a chill, in spite of the mild evening. His father had purchased a commission for him, and he had served a brief training in England before being sent out to India. He had arrived a year ago, just before the issue of the fateful cartridges at Dum Dum in January, which later in the spring had erupted in mutiny. The rumor had been that the bullets were coated with animal grease, in the part required to be bitten into in order to open the cartridge for use. The Hindus had been told it was beef fat. Cows were sacred, and to kill one was blasphemy. To put cow fat to the lips was damnation. The Muslims had been told it was pork fat, and to them, the pig was an unclean animal. To put that grease to your lips would damn your soul, although for an entirely different reason.
Of course, that was not the only cause of the mutiny by hundreds of thousands of Indians against the rule of a few thousand Englishmen employed by the East India Company. The reasons were more complex, far more deeply rooted in the social inequities and the cultural offenses of a foreign rule. The bullets had merely been the spark that had ignited the fire.
Also it was true, as far as Narraway could gather, that the mutiny was far from universal. It was violent and terrible only in small parts of the country. Thousands of miles remained untouched by it, lying peaceful, if a little uneasy, under the winter sun. But the province of Sind on the Hindustan plains had seen much of the very worst of it, Cawnpore and Lucknow in particular.
General Colin Campbell, a hero from the recent war in the Crimea, had fought to relieve the siege at Lucknow. A week ago he and his men had defeated 25,000 rebels here at Cawnpore. Was it the beginning of a turning of the tide? Or just a glimmer of light that would not last?
Copyright © 2012 by Anne Perry
Anne Perry’s tenth Victorian Christmas mystery takes us back to the early career of Victor Narraway, long before he becomes Thomas Pitt’s superior.
December, 1857: Lieutenant Narraway is a fish out of water on his first assignment in exotic India. It’s a challenge for a young officer at the best of times—but these times are troubled, as the indigenous population rises in a fiery mutiny against the East India Company. Narraway must defend a British medical orderly against charges of murdering a guard—and the inexperienced sleuth is terrified that a mistake might result in the personable orderly’s execution. But with the help of two young children and a Christmas garland, Narraway will learn a timely—and miraculous?—lesson about hope.
Hardcover Book : 208 pages
Publisher: Ballantine/Delrey Bks/Div Random H ( October 30, 2012 )
Item #: 13-649027
Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.25 x 0.5inches
Product Weight: 10.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
It's not her best, but still a pretty good read. I found some parts repetitive and belabored, but Anne Perry does spin an interesting story.
Reviewer: Sharon H