Jonathan Prosper, mid-20s, has left Oxford and England behind him. With his father’s bank embezzlement overshadowing his own reputation, he hopes to make his way in India, gain some measure of wealth, and return to Oxford. But the tea and imported carpet business provides only so much income, and he’s found himself acting as a “confidential agent,” or private detective. It’s the 1930s, the last years of the British Raj.
He’s hired by a jute manufacturing manager to see if the rumors about his wife are true. But before he can complete his investigation, the client is murdered. His personal servant is missing and suspected of the crime. But the client’s wife is not convinced; she hires Jonathan to look into the crime. The suspects include her own brother, an officer in the local British garrison.
And it seems that more people are interested on what’s happened, including what would be the rough equivalent of the Raj’s FBI. The body of one of their agents has been found in the river, and there may be a connection to the death of the jute plant manager. Prosper soon finds himself immersed in union politics, religious conflicts, and odd things happening with the garrison.
Where Gods Dwell by Leigh Copeland is the first of the Jonathan Prosper mysteries, and it’s a deep, fascinating dive into the Indian sub-continent of the period. Much of the story is set in East Bengal, or what is now Bangladesh, and Copeland artfully blends historical research into a compelling account. (I read the third in the series, Kiss Miss, first, but the stories are standalone and work individually as well as together.)
Born in Melbourne, Australia, Copeland graduated in Politics and Sociology at Monash University. He and his wife operate a business dealing in antique carpets and rare textiles from Afghanistan and India, and he’s made more than 50 trips to the two countries. He’s published five novels in the Jonathan Prosper series: Where Gods Dwell, The Body in the Bokhara, Kiss Miss, Full Moon, and Calcutta Cabob.
Where Gods Dwell is a fine mystery. Prosper is just the right blend of slightly cynical and knowledgeable Englishman. He knows his own place in the Indian / British hierarchy, and he understands how both the British and the people they rule work. It’s a great read.