Author – M. J. Carter
Published – 2014
Genre – Historical crime fiction
The Strangler Vine is M. J. Carter’s debut novel and was:
- Shortlisted for the John Creasey New Blood Dagger for Best Debut Crime Novel of the Year
- Shortlisted for the HWA Debut Crown 2015
- Longlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award 2015
- Longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014
so it comes with some pretty strong credentials.
The book is set in Calcutta, 1837, at a time when the East India Company effectively ruled India and beyond with its own private army. Ensign William Avery has been kicking his heels in Calcutta for nine months and is still hoping that he will get his wished for posting to a cavalry regiment. In the meantime he is frustrated by the forced idleness, ill-tempered, homesick, and prone to gambling to while away the time.
Avery is assigned a task to accompany Jeremiah Blake, a former Company man, to track down estranged agent, writer and poet Xavier Mountstuart who has disappeared. Part of the story is their trek across India – Mountstuart was last seen in the Thuggee territory and they undertake quite a perilous journey in their search for him.
The other part of the story is the relationship between Avery and Blake. Avery is reluctant to undertake the mission and there is no doubt that Blake doesn’t want Avery on the journey. Blake could be described as enigmatic, but initially he is far more reticent and distant, having very little to do with Avery. Gradually, as more difficult situations are thrown at them, there is a thawing in their relationship.
Told in the first person this gives both an immediacy to the events as well as restricting what the reader knows – keeping them as much in the dark as poor Avery. Blake is the star of the show – the genius who has gone native and has no great respect for the Company. And the country plays its own part as Carter brings to life the sights, sounds and atmosphere of the time and the different places. The plot itself is as twisty as the Strangler Vine that lines their route and as thrilling as a cheetah hunt (quite literally).
An unusual read, and an interesting duo.