"Heard someone say the other day, ‘Where Sandilands goes, trouble follows.' Come on, Joe, live up to your reputation --- enliven our dull lives,'" remarks a character in the opening pages of THE PALACE TIGER.
Scotland Yard detective and WWI hero Joe Sandilands already has experienced his share of excitement while on assignment in 1920s India. In his fourth outing, he is drawn into a world of royal intrigue. Joe's detecting and diplomatic skills are put to the test as he solves a series of murders while navigating the tenuous political line between the ruling British and the government of the princely state of Ranipur.
The maharaja, the ruler of Ranipur, is terminally ill, and the line of succession is in question after the death of his eldest son in an incident first believed an accident and then determined to be murder. Along with a colleague, the enigmatic Edgar Troop, Joe is sent to Ranipur under the pretense of taking part in a hunting party to track down a rogue tiger that has been attacking villagers.
Before Edgar and Joe arrive at the royal palace, another fatality occurs. This time it's the second of the maharaja's sons, whose demise also appears to be accidental until clues are uncovered that suggest otherwise. Unable to act in an official capacity because of political restrictions, Joe is tasked with discreetly investigating the murders and with protecting the maharaja's last living son, Bahadur, from harm.
No sooner does Joe arrive in Ranipur than he finds himself embroiled in the private lives of the palace's inhabitants, among them Madeleine, the widow of the slain second son; Stuart, Madeleine's brother and a former World War I fighter pilot; Claude Vyvyan, British Regent of Ranipur, and his secretive wife, Lois; Shubhada, the ruler's unconventional third wife; and Udai Singh, the reigning maharaja.
In THE PALACE TIGER, Barbara Cleverly unfolds a classic whodunit against an exotic backdrop. Her descriptions of the palace, from courtyards bursting with colorful blooms to winding marble corridors and gilded rooms to the customs and practices that take place within its walls, are intriguing enough. Add to that a clever mystery and a dashing detective, and it makes for an appealing read.
The character of Joe Sandilands is without a doubt the main draw. Just as the major players in this drama are compelled to confide in him, readers too will be drawn in by his intelligence, confidence, kindness, and quiet authority. But even Joe had better heed the advice given to him by his mentor, Sir George Jardine: "There are man-eaters in Ranipur, certainly ones with four legs but quite probably another prowling the corridors on two legs." As Joe discovers, Sir George is not far off the mark.
Reviewed by Shannon McKenna on January 14, 2011