In Murder Under a Red Moon (Pegasus Crime, Mar.), Nagendra’s sleuth, Kaveri Murthy, is back at it in colonial India.

How did this series begin?

My day job is as an ecologist and university professor. I was deep into researching Bangalore’s history. I was in my mother’s house surrounded by archival maps and documents, and Kaveri sort of parachuted into my head, and was very insistent that I write about her. There was so much interesting material on Bangalore’s history, but I was only able to take the ecological parts and put it into my research. So I said, “Okay, I have to write about the other part.”

What led to her “parachuting” into your head?

Maybe the timing? My mother had told me a lot of stories about my grandmother when she was young. I knew that she had a very strong voice, a very strongly developed sense of justice, and was also very clever. I’ve always been interested in women who wanted to do something of their own, not just what society expected. So it was clear to me that Kaveri would be someone who would figure out how to balance societal expectations of her and act on her strong sense of justice.

How did you decide on the 1920s setting?

The 1920s is a perfect age for women who are bucking their times. It’s a time when women can actually study mathematics, as Kaveri does. There were women entrepreneurs in Bangalore. So she’s bucking the times, but not out of the times. There were other strong women then who were doing extraordinary things—the first journalist to set up her own magazine, a coffee entrepreneur, all women really pushing against what society allowed. Plus the fight against the British Empire is much stronger in the 1920s than in previous periods.

Why Bangalore?

There’s a lot of recent fiction set in colonial India, but most of it has been set in large cities under direct colonial rule. Bangalore was in Mysore, a princely state, where the king really buffered the oppressive part of the Empire. The king and the queen at the time were extraordinarily progressive; they really pushed the education of women. There were possibilities for advancement of knowledge for the Indian side of the population, which was not necessarily there in many of the other cases. Also, Bangalore was very cosmopolitan. So you had a lot of religions, cultures, and languages that coexisted, and there was a great willingness to engage with other cultures outside your own. It’s a really nice opportunity, I think, for me to introduce a different part of India that readers may not be as familiar with.