Friday, June 18, 2021

"Murder in Old Bombay"

Nev March is the recent winner of the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America Award for Best First Crime Fiction.

After a long career in business analysis, in 2015 she returned to her passion, writing fiction and now teaches creative writing at Rutgers-Osher Institute. A Parsee Zoroastrian herself, she lives in New Jersey with her husband and two sons. Murder in Old Bombay is her debut novel.

March applied the Page 69 Test to Murder in Old Bombay and reported the following:
Astonishing! The Page-69 test absolutely does work for my book. As a chapter titled “Damned Personal Questions” opens, here’s Captain Jim waking at the Framji home after being assaulted by unknown assailants:
“Captain, please stay. At least until you recover,” Adi’s father said, somewhere above me. Clad in a brocade dressing gown, Burjor’s girth moved by my bed. How long had he stood there? “Rest now,” his low voice rumbled.

“I’ll stay with him,” said Diana’s voice.

He consented and the scent of sandalwood, laundered linen and soap departed. I winced. Just my luck. Graced with Diana’s presence, and I was barely capable of coherent thought.

I recalled the doctor’s words and felt weighed down with forebodings. I’d suspected that Lady Bacha’s death might revolve around some error of her youth, or Miss Pilloo’s. But this was no dusty riddle from the past. Her secret still menaced her husband and I was loath to be the instrument of Adi’s disgrace.

The attack had taken me by surprise. My inquiries had disturbed, no, threatened someone. I felt a spurt of satisfaction, a sense of having achieved something; the murderer was uneasy. I smiled and my mouth stung, bringing forth an oath.

“Do you need anything?” Diana moved into sight.
Here Captain Jim voices suspicions that Lady Bacha and Miss Pilloo might have had a dangerous secret that led to their deaths, and fears that it still threatens Adi, his client. It showcases his dare-devil personality, wanting to draw those hidden enemies into the open, as well as his sensitivity and reluctance to damage his client’s social standing with unpleasant revelations.

These brief lines also contain the themes that echo through the novel—Captain Jim’s affection for his client’s family (he’s a mixed-race orphan, a social pariah in those times) and the romantic subplot of his increasing involvement with Diana, his client’s sister.

So yes, if a reader opened to this page, they would certainly get a glimpse of the perils to come!

Murder in Old Bombay is a voyage through Colonial India, where Captain Jim, a recovering officer navigates a maze of danger and deception. He explores society ballrooms, princedoms, dockyards and mountain villages in search of clues to uncover the real culprits behind the unexplained deaths of two young women. In the process he discovers a vast conspiracy hidden in plain sight, and finds what he’s been seeking all along, a sense of belonging.

This compact page, though early in this story, still showcases the nuances of language and social constraints of the time, and makes promises about the action to come.
Visit Nev March's website.

Q&A with Nev March.

--Marshal Zeringue