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A pacey adventure of derring-do but it limps home
on 27 April 2014
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....