TROUBLE IN NUALA by Harriet Steel
Harriet Steel's Inspector Shanti de Silva series set in 1930's Ceylon is an absolute gem. De Silva is the head of a 3-person police force in the smallish city of Nuala. The British are still the colonial power (today Ceylon is the independent nation of Sri Lanka) and he straddles the divide between the local population and his British bosses.
He has flouted both cultures by marrying a British woman, Jane, who came to Ceylon as a governess to a British family. They live in a bungalow called Sunnybank where De Silvio has an extensive garden and Jane devours Agatha Christie novels.
TROUBLE IN NUALA starts with reports that a tea plantation owner has flogged a worker. A lawyer from the capital of Colombo makes a complaint on the worker’s behalf.
But when De Silva investigates, he finds that the worker has disappeared and the plantation owner is an unpleasant man who is up to his ears in debt. Add a dubious business associate, a frazzled wife, and a chatty mynah bird, and the situation is much more complicated than at first glance.
The heat and scents of Ceylon are captured so well, it’s easy to form a mental picture. The pacing is similar to The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency or the Commisario Brunetti series, with introspective moments and dialogue-driven action. De Silva’s social standing with the British adds a subtle layer of tension, even as he mentors younger police officers.
There are 8 books in the series so far, all with “Nuala” in the titles: DARK CLOUDS OVER NUALA, ROUGH TIME IN NUALA, PASSAGE FROM NUALA, OFFSTAGE IN NUALA, etc. Plots are true to time and place. As the series progresses, Hitler’s rise to power and the possible implications for the British Empire create additional questions but each book stands alone.
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