The third Superintendent Le Fanu Mystery sees the intrepid policeman promoted to Acting Inspector-General of Police for the Madras Presidency. Set in 1920s India, the novel begins with Le Fanu acting out a long held troupe of the police procedural- the newly promoted copper desperate to avoid the bureaucracy and get back to real police work.
His wish is swiftly granted as he is drawn into the case of a missing senior Indian Civil Service officer, and later a seemingly unrelated murder, both of which swiftly thrust Le Fanu back into the thick of the police work he had so ardently missed in the novel’s early chapters.
Later, as the politics of the job catches up with him, Le Fanu is sent across the Bay of Bengal by his superiors to pursue the cases in the Straits Settlements, a group of politically significant British territories located in Southeast Asia. He immediately becomes embroiled in the activities of secret societies and the British colonial intelligence services, which makes for an invigorating twist.
The plotting is decisive and navigates the issue of colonisation effectively to provide a fact paced and intriguing police procedural modelled on a rich genre.
The issue here is the dialogue, a key feature of many traditional novels of this genre, which is usually witty and slick, but in this case falls flat. With colleguaes being assured that they are doing a “high quality job”, and the protagonist regularly called ‘LF’ in speech by his fellow characters, the dialogue leaves a lot to be desired, and hampers the pace set by the otherwise skilfully constructed narrative.
As a police procedural, then, this book does well, slotting into a well established genre and making a mark. Although disrupted by poorly written dialogue the novel is worth a read if you like traditional police procedural novels, and the well structured characters will make many keen to explore the first two books of the series, A Madras Miasma and The Pallampur Predicament