A disappearance in Fiji

Nilima Rao

Book - 2023

"1914, Fiji: 25-year-old police sergeant Akal Singh would rather be anywhere but this tropical paradise. After a promising start to his career in his native India and in Hong Kong, he got sent to work in Fiji as punishment for a professional mistake he's too embarrassed to talk about. Lonely and humiliated, Akal longs for the day he can finally solve a big case and win the inspector-general's favor, thereby redeeming himself and being permitted to return to Hong Kong. Otherwise, he fears he will be stuck in Fiji forever. When an indentured Indian woman goes missing from a sugarcane plantation and Fiji's newspapers scream "kidnapping," the inspector-general reluctantly assigns Akal the case, giving Akal strict i...nstructions to view this investigation as nothing more than cursory. Fiji's economy depends on the already-controversial indentured servitude system; a high-profile case like this could imbalance the fragile colony. But as soon as Akal arrives on the plantation, he identifies several troubling inconsistencies in the plantation owners' stories, and it seems there is more to this disappearance than meets the eye. Over the course of his investigation, Akal must confront not only the painful realities of the indentured workers' existence and the racism of the British colonizers in Fiji, but also his own thorny notions of personhood and caste. As he closes in on the truth of what happened to the missing woman, he must ask himself: Should this case be the one that gets him sent in triumph back to Hong Kong? Or is it not so bad in Fiji after all?"--

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MYSTERY/Rao Nilima
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1st Floor New Shelf MYSTERY/Rao Nilima (NEW SHELF) Due Dec 19, 2023
Detective and mystery stories
Detective and mystery fiction
New York, NY : Soho Press, Inc [2023]
Main Author
Nilima Rao (author)
Physical Description
276 pages ; 21 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

This debut novel by a Fijian Indian Australian delivers both an absorbing mystery and a scathing indictment of the cruelties inflicted on indentured servants from India working on the sugar plantations in Fiji in 1914. Rao's detective, Indian Police Sergeant Akal Singh, demoted from his post in Hong Kong to Fiji six months earlier, is assigned to the case of a young woman who went missing from a sugar plantation. A crusading priest insists she was kidnapped; the British inspector general wants Singh to do only the most cursory investigation, aimed both at containing journalists interested in the story and at quieting the priest, who has launched a campaign against the misrule of the plantations. Singh's examination of the plantation from which the girl disappeared reveals abysmal conditions. Just about every dealing Singh has with the British is loaded with casual racism. It's fascinating to watch Singh's uphill struggle to learn what happened to the young woman; the way he is thwarted at every turn speaks volumes about colonial rule. An insightful, determined main character, the unearthing of the wrongs of indentured servitude, and a compelling plot make this a promising start to a new series. Fans of Harini Nagendra's The Bangalore Detectives Club (2022), also about the wrongs inflicted under British colonialism, should love this mystery.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Rao's lively, elegantly constructed debut follows 25-year-old police sergeant Akal Singh, who was a rising star in Hong Kong until an embarrassing debacle led to his transfer to--in his words--the "godforsaken island" of Fiji in 1914. He does not hit it off with his new superior, Inspector General Thurstrom, and anticipates receiving only inconsequential assignments. The disappearance of a missing indentured worker on a sugar plantation at first raises little interest, but then newspapers start claiming the woman was kidnapped; the publicity forces Thurstrom to send Singh out to investigate. He arrives at the plantation of Henry Parkins and finds that its overseer, John Brown, is also missing. These disappearances don't seem to concern Parkins and his wife, who suggest that Brown and the woman, Kunti, were lovers who ran away together, but after talking with other workers, Singh becomes convinced there's something more sinister at play. As he interviews locals and learns more about Fiji's class strata, Singh begins to wonder whether Brown and Kunti will ever return home. Rao skillfully weaves descriptions of the treatment and living conditions of Indian workers into the propulsive plot and draws a host of vibrant characters. This is an exceptionally promising debut. (June)

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Review by Library Journal Review

DEBUT Rao's mystery relates the little-known story of Indians who were indentured in Fiji. In 1914, young Indian police sergeant Akal Singh is assigned to British colonial Fiji as punishment for misdeeds in Hong Kong. He's assigned the case of an indentured Indian servant who disappeared from a plantation. Normally this sort of disappearance would not be scrutinized, but two events prompt the inspector-general to investigate: first, a Catholic missionary told the newspaper that Kunti, the missing woman, was kidnapped; second, the delegation for Indian Relations with Fiji is visiting, and they are interested in how the British police treat a crime against an indentured servant. Akal knows the case is either a chance to redeem himself for his actions in Hong Kong or to become a scapegoat. The British plantation owners treat Akal no better than their indentured servants. If a British doctor didn't smooth the way, Akal might not have been able to talk with the servants, who tell him how the British sexually abused the women, including Kunti. Akal's boss will not be pleased with his final report about Kunti's disappearance. VERDICT The Punjabi Sikh Akal Singh and the mystery of colonial Fiji will appeal to fans of Abir Mukherjee's mysteries set in India.--Lesa Holstine

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

In colonial Fiji, the search for a missing plantation worker exposes the deep roots of the island's racism. Young police sergeant Akal Singh, who's been in Fiji a mere six months in 1914, is finding his bearings and growing in confidence through a strong relationship with Taviti, a Fijian corporal. The biggest challenge the police face is a miscreant known as the Night Prowler, who's been terrorizing children by peeping in their windows. To his surprise, Akal is pulled off this case and instructed to investigate the disappearance of Kunti, an indentured laborer on a sugar plantation owned by Henry and Susan Parkins, an influential Australian couple. The case probably wouldn't have garnered much attention but for the interest of righteous missionary Father David Hughes, who suspects kidnapping and has written to the newspaper. The Parkinses assume that Kunti has run away, so the investigation is at a stalemate. But Akal suspects foul play, and bolstered by the involvement of the sympathetic Father Hughes and the influential Mr. Ravendra Choudry, he continues his probe. The undercurrent of the White community's racism reminds Akal of a time he was reprimanded in Hong Kong over his "indiscretion" with Emily Strahan, a young Englishwoman who deceived him in a criminal case. He is determined not to make a similar mistake in Fiji. Akal's journey from optimistic junior officer to sadder but wiser fighter for justice provides this debut with a relatable heart. A complex and engaging mystery given even greater weight by its important historical backdrop. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.