Trouble in Nuala by Harriet Steel (Stane Street Press, 2016) is the first book in the Inspector Shanti de Silva mysteries. Six more follow the first one. Set in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, during the 1930s and the waning days of British Colonial rule, the book is an examination of the cultures inhabiting the island nation that gave the world much of its tea as well as a traditional murder mystery.
Inspector de Silva and his English wife Jane have left the city of Colombo for the slower pace of life in hilly Nuala, where he has taken a position with the local police force. While Colombo is a real city of about 750,000, Nuala is a fictionalized version of Nuwara Eliya; Nuala is a proper English city with a lively and involved group of British expatriates.
Upon his return to Nuala after testifying in a trial of gang members in another city, de Silva is promptly confronted with the information that one of the plantation owners has been accused of flogging one of the native workers. While most of the plantation owners realize it is in their best interests to treat their workers well, there still remained one or two who are troglodytes. No one wants a native uprising but no specific labor laws exist to protect them either. A Tamil lawyer from Colombo has been asking questions about the incident and has been demanding action from the authorities. De Silva’s boss sees the difficulty in balancing the need for justice and defending the English plantation owner, no matter how difficult he is. He hands the whole thing off to the inspector and requests a prompt resolution.
After equally troublesome interviews with both the lawyer from Colombo and the plantation owner, who refuses to allow de Silva to interview his workers, the inspector puzzles over next steps. The sudden death of the plantation owner changes everything. The medical examiner thinks the cause of death is a heart attack brought on by a drinking binge but de Silva is not so sure.
The author stated in an interview that she especially enjoys vintage murder mysteries and it shows. The style, the pacing, the motives for murder, the characters all fit the time, the classic detection Golden Age. The descriptions throughout of the flora and fauna are most appealing; like C.D. Sloan of Catherine Aird’s Calleshire books, the inspector raises beautiful roses. Perhaps not a wildly original plot, but fresh enough when combined with well-defined characters and punctuated with exquisite scenery to be an agreeable read. Recommended.
· Paperback: 198 pages
· Publisher: Stane Street Press, 2016
· Language: English
· ISBN-10: 0995693404
· ISBN-13: 978-0995693401
Aubrey Hamilton ©2020
Aubrey Hamilton is a former librarian who works on Federal It projects by day and reads mysteries at night.