cover image The Strangler Vine

The Strangler Vine

M.J. Carter. Putnam, $26.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-399-17167-3

Colonial India in 1837 comes alive in Carter’s superior fiction debut. Col. Patrick Buchanan, the chief military secretary of the Honorable East India Company in Calcutta, directs a former company officer, the Sherlock Holmes–like Jeremiah Blake, to search for Xavier Mountstuart, the author of popular romance fiction rumored to be based on fact, who disappeared after visiting the headquarters of the company’s thuggee department. The officer who runs this department is determined to rid the country of the threat from the murderous thuggee gangs. William Avery, a callow young company officer, is to accompany Blake. Buchanan warns Avery that while success will gain him whatever posting he desires, failure will doom him to end his days in the “most remote malarial hole in Bengal.” The quest takes some surprising turns, and Carter (Anthony Blunt: His Lives) is masterly at keeping the reader guessing what’s really going on. The final revelation is both jaw-dropping and plausible. Agent: Bill Hamilton, A.M. Heath (U.K.). (Mar.)