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This is not at all the type of novel I would normally be drawn to, but the storyline sounded highly intriguing, and I'm thoroughly glad I did read it, because I thought it was brilliant.

In Calcutta, September 1873 young William Avery, an Ensign in the army of the East India Company is sent to deliver a letter from the Company to Jeremiah Blake, an ex-Company man whose `native ways' have left him in some disfavour among many of the Company. Blake is an enigmatic and difficult man and Avery dislikes him on first meeting. But within a very short time Avery and Blake are thrown together by the Company, sending them out together to find Xavier Mountstuart, who has apparently gone into the "jangal" researching his next writing work, a poem about Thuggee.

The narration in this book is by Avery, a rather naïve young man who finds himself on a journey he never contemplated taking with a man he cannot bring himself to like, and three natives - travelling hard and fast from Calcutta to Jubbulpore, their journey then veers off to Doora, under the rule of the Rao who the Company are keeping a close eye on, all the while still trying to find Mountstuart but being drawn into the politics and cultural unrest of nineteenth century India, struggling under famine and Company rule.

This is a great book; the narrative of Avery brings the uncertainty of his journey and his frame of mind to the fore, and this book turns from what could be a simple journey to find Mountstuart into a story where nobody quite knows who can be trusted, or what might happen next. The exotic surroundings and unfamiliar culture in which Avery finds himself are also exotic and unfamiliar to the reader (well, certainly to me) and this heightens the interest and excitement of the narrative as it races along to a well-formed and very satisfying conclusion. I am delighted that there is to be a sequel, The Infidel Stain, which I look forward to reading immensely. Great stuff.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 18 April 2015
A well written and enthralling mystery set in India in the 1830s. The East India Company, a pre-runner to the British Raj, rules the country and has an increasingly dismissive attitude to the native people. The novel is narrated in the first person by William Avery, a young officer in the company's own army, who is sent on a mission together with bad-tempered former solider Jeremiah Blake to find a missing famous poet. Their quest uncovers rather more than the celebrated scribbler, and soon they're embroiled in a dangerous plot. There's plenty of action to be had, and suspense, and the underlying mystery is interesting and not entirely predictable.

Comparisons with Sherlock Holmes are well made - the Avery and Blake partnership is very much in the same mould. Avery is a hugely likeable character whilst Blake is fascinating. There is a strong cast of supporting characters and Carter has the gift of making readers care about characters in a short space of time, which makes you feel invested in the novel. Whilst I had a suspicion about one element of the story, I didn't see most of the denouement coming and there was a twist I wasn't expecting. It's an original idea for a story, and the setting also makes it interesting. Some of the attitudes displayed by the Brits will make modern readers wince, but that's how it was and it never hurts to be reminded how ugly and stupid racism is.

This is a fairly long book but it doesn't feel that way - it's easy to read, entertaining, and the story takes the time it needs to take. The characters are interesting and the key ones are likeable, and it is enlightening about a particular period of history. Some of the characters were real people, and there's a bit of historical context at the end, so I felt I learned something as well as being entertained. This book will appeal to those who like mysteries and thrillers, and those with an interest in the history of the British in India. It's also a really good read and although I wouldn't put myself into any of those categories, I really liked it. So I'd recommend strongly to a general readership. It's good news to see there is a sequel coming, as I have faith that this is an author who will follow up with something equally readable.
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on 5 March 2014
This is a great read which presents an authentic portrait of my country. As someone who speaks 'hindoostanee' almost as well as Jeremiah Blake, I admired the accuracy of every detail in the book. It is a nuanced picture of India which underpins a great yarn told with skill and flair. A tour de force or as, Blake might have said, yeh kitab ek toofan hai.
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on 22 February 2014
I absolutely loved this book and await The Infidel Stain with eager anticipation. I'm very grateful to my Pilates teacher, whom I share with the author, for her recommendation otherwise I may never have known about The Strangler Vine which would have been my loss.
The writing is beautiful, the tale enthralling and the details so exacting that I then bought Fanny Parkes' book!
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on 4 April 2014
I devoured this in a couple of days, and found it very hard to put down. An exciting story, gorgeous descriptions of India in all its colour, heat, splendour and squalor, and interesting characters made for a very good book. I've never been to India (though I've read several books set there, notably those of MM Kaye and John Masters), so I'm not entirely sure how accurate it was, but the portrayal was certainly very convincing. Glad to see there's a sequel in the pipeline, I'm looking forward to more of Blake and Avery.
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on 1 September 2014
This is a well-written first novel in a planned series of three, where young William Avery from England appears in India, under The Company, i.e. The East India Company. The year is 1837, and at the start Avery gets orders to follow an older, morose and eccentric man, Blake, in order to find a poet laureate, Mountstuart.

This is an adventure along the lines of Indiana Jones, Agatha Christie, Rudyard Kipling and Arthur Conan Doyle. The language is spot-on and the action is thrilling; the tempo holds throughout the book, and I really wanted to find out what was happening next.

All in all: an adventure, almost veering more towards the young adult way than towards older persons, but it’s a well-researched book, recommendable to all who like the above.
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1837: The East India Company is a vast trading operation that uses its powers as a quasi-military force to keep the vast indigenous population under its many-tentacled control. Avery is a young officer with a strong moral compass and he is a keen observer; his lowly position in 'the Company' allows him to be the detached onlooker and, as such, he is an engaging narrator.

The Company teams Avery up with undercover agent Blake, an older man whose best days, it would seem, are behind him. They are dispatched to find revered poet, Xavier Mountstuart, who has mysteriously disappeared in remote territory. Could Mountstuart have been kidnapped or even killed by a murderous bandit gang known as 'Thuggee'?

At first, The Strangler Vine is an entertaining well-paced read, fascinating in its description of the Indian hierarchy, imperial power politics and the sometimes beautiful, sometimes brutal landscape. However, as an ever-increasing number of duplicitous characters, murderous Thugs and blatant metaphors creep out of the 'jangal' undergrowth, the whole thing descends into pantomime heroics and villainy. The last third of the book is such implausible nonsense that I'm afraid I lost patience with it. Having said that, the first chapter of the next Avery adventure (to be found at the end of the book) does sound remarkably intriguing....
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 March 2016
William Avery is a junior officer in the East India Company, based in Calcutta in 1837. He is given the assignment of travelling into Central India to try and locate the celebrated author Xavier Mountstuart, who has gone missing. Avery is accompanying Jeremiah Blake, an enigmatic and taciturn former East India employee. He doesn't know whether he can trust Blake nor what his motivations are.

This is an intriguing story which is reminiscent in some ways of The Devil in the Marshalsea. It's rich in atmosphere and details of life at that time. However I felt that the story was drawn out and lacked suspense. I kept losing track of who was who and I felt like we were getting bogged down with too much description.
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on 23 March 2014
This is not a bad book at all and worth a read - although I would get it on kindle or paperback. I love India and its fiction, but no point pretending, this book feels very heavily influenced by John Masters "The Deceivers" (which is outstanding), to the point where I felt frustrated with it. The book feels part action thriller, part historical memoir and part social commentary - and falls between all three, although there are some nice sequences where the tension gets ratcheted up and the humid oppressive decay of Calcutta is well presented at the beginning. If you haven't read a book on 19th century India, buy Masters instead. If you have then you will enjoy The Strangler Vine, but probably not been blown away by it.
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This novel brings us to early Victorian India in 1837. It takes place during the Raj, The British Rule, not such an attractive time as advertised. The East Indian Company backed up by the British Army, control much of India.

William Avery is a naive lieutenant sent out of Calcutta by the Company to find Xavier Mountstuart, India expert and novelist, who has disappeared into the depths of the jungle. In this environment grow the 'strangler vines', creepers which choke the trees until killer and victim are so entangled they seem to become one.

Jeremiah Blake, a Special Inquiry Agent, sort of undercover, goes with Avery. With two Indian aides, they set out from Calcutta to Dura. On the way they meet a British hero, Major Sleeman, famous as the suppressor of Thuggism. Thuggism is mysterious, is Thuggism a religious cult or was it invented by the British as a murderous force. This certainly opens the eyes of the naive Avery. He will never be the same, but he will mature.

The author provides descriptions of the court of Rao, or Rajah. There were hunting cheetahs, and elephants with golden chains. There was also famine surrounding this dazzling wealth, the criminals executed by elephant-trampling. And, through this Avery learns and moves on to find Mountstuart. Avery and Blake become fond of each other and merge as friends, but will they succeed in their trek?

The writing is absolutely brilliant. This is not my usual genre, but I enjoyed this novel. Another book is right around the corner.

Recommended. prisrob 04-24-16
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