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A Blake and Avery Novel (Book 1)
It’s 1837 and the East India Company reigns almost supreme in India. William Avery was drawn to the country thanks to the work of his favorite writer, Xavier Mountstuart. But the India Avery discovers after joining the Company isn’t quite what Mountstuart’s adventures led him to expect. Then Mountstuart himself goes missing and Avery is tapped to be part of the mission to find him. It’s not an assignment Avery relishes in spite of the fact that it revolves around his personal hero. First off it means leaving the relative comfort of Calcutta. And second, his superior in the assignment is a man whose distaste for Avery rivals the soldier’s own feelings. Jeremiah Blake is, in Avery’s eyes, a man on the brink of madness. He’s unkempt to the point of resembling the natives more so than the company man he’s said to be and his methods are beyond questionable.
Mountstuart was last said to have been seen in Jubbulpore, home of the famed Thuggee Department, where Mountstuart was rumored to have been studying the fearsome Thuggee culture for the purpose of his next piece. But months have passed with no sign of Mountstuart and, in light of his more scandalous recent release, the Company has reason to want him found and ejected from the country quickly.
This first in the Avery and Blake series is equal parts mystery and adventure, but in addition to that, there’s history too. Through Avery and Blake, Carter offers readers two different perspectives of colonialism and India.
Blake is one of the old guard, somewhat encouraged to learn the language and cultures of the region the Company was commandeering. As such, he sympathizes with the natives and has understandably come to reconsider the Company’s position in the country.
Avery on the other hand has very little interest in Indian culture or the natives. In fact, when faced with leaving Calcutta and its overwhelmingly English atmosphere, he immediately tries to turn down the assignment. Fortunately Avery is still able to be molded and influenced, but only if he can set aside his prejudices long enough for Blake to reach him.
The mystery of Mountstuart’s fate and the threat of the Thuggee draw the reader in, propelling the story and giving it a fantastic suspense element perfect for any mystery/thriller fan. Even more appealing is the fact that Carter does this all the while staying true to the history of the region itself. Cameo appearances by actual historic figures help lend an air of authenticity to the tale, making it that much more entertaining.
The Strangler Vine is a fantastic series opener and has even been nominated for the Edgar Award for First Novel this year. The second title in the series, The Infidel Strain, is out now.
4/16 Becky LeJeune
THE STRANGLER VINE by M. J. Carter. G.P. Putnam’s Sons (February 23, 2016). ISBN: 978-0425280744 400p.