Author: Harriet Steel
Category: Historical Fiction, Cosy Mystery, Book Review
In this third instalment of The Inspector de Silva Mysteries, there’s great excitement when a professional theatre company comes to Nuala. However matters take a dark turn when the company’s actor manager is murdered. Inspector de Silva has a new case to solve and he has to consider some very unpalatable motives for the crime. He will need all his persistence, coupled with his wife, Jane’s, invaluable help to unmask the villain of the piece.
I’m enjoying this very entertaining and colourful series very much and it was lovely to get reacquainted with the engaging and genteel Inspector Shanti de Silva and his charming wife, Jane. Not to mention Sergeant Prasanna and Constable Nadar. De Silva met Jane in Colombo, where he began his career as a police officer, and Jane was a governess. When they married, De Silva was offered and accepted the position of Inspector in the much more pleasant and quieter small hill town of Nuala.
Offstage in Nuala opens with the de Silvas attending a play performed by a visiting professional theatre company. There they meet up with Archie Clutterbuck, the assistant government agent for the area, and his wife, Florence.
Although de Silva had been familiar with some of the well-known lines from Hamlet, he had only recently tackled the whole play. With Jane’s help, he had found the plot quite easy to follow, even if a lot of the language was archaic. He wondered if people really talked like that in Shakespeare’s day, or whether literary language was more formal and high-flown than the everyday. A pity one would never know.
It’s not long before there’s another case for de Silva to solve – the murder of Alexander Danforth, actor and head of the theatre company. De Silva needs to harness all his determination and persistence as he feels Archie Clutterbuck is hampering the investigation, giving the impression he may have something to hide. Clutterbuck was not about to share the reasons for his behaviour with de Silva. Nevertheless, de Silva explores every development thoroughly, even if it means climbing to dizzying heights in the theatre, and helped by his always supportive wife.
As with the previous books, Harriet Steel sets the scene and paints a vivid picture of the rich and multi cultural way of life in 1930s Ceylon, with authentic dialogue and expressive prose, which completely captures the feel of a bygone era. A well crafted plot with fascinating historical details and a smoothly flowing narrative. Descriptions of the food are enticing although I’m not quite sure I would be able to eat curry for breakfast. I can’t resist finding pictures of dishes I’m not familiar with. The one I’ve included is a typical Sri Lankan breakfast dish.
I also love the descriptions of de Silva’s beloved garden and how much he enjoys it…’Meringues of cloud drifted across the blue sky and a breeze as light as a cream puff cooled him. Hidden among the trees, a golden oriole sang.‘ It sounds delightful.