The Strangler Vine is an interesting novel – part road-trip, part examination of British-Indian relations in the 1800’s and part detective story starring an opium addicted poet, a by-the-book soldier, a shady mercenary and a bloodthirsty cult. If all that sounds like a bit much to take in, it’s not as Tarantino as described! It’s a carefully plotted novel, slowly dropping plot-points like breadcrumbs along the road at regular intervals.
The story follows the mismatched duo of William Avery, a self-important junior officer in the East India Company and Jeremiah Blake, an ex-employee with a mysterious past. They are hired to locate an enigmatic poet who disappeared while doing research on a shadowy cult out in the deepest part of India. Along the way they encounter tigers, egotistical princes and corrupt company men. What Avery finds repulsive about local culture, Blake revels in; and it’s in Avery’s slow acceptance and even understanding of these customs that forms the emotional core of the story.
It’s all very well researched with Carter doing a good job of evoking the place and time, and although it is a little dialogue heavy, the banter between characters is very well written. While I was expecting something along the lines of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, what I actually got was something much more nuanced, quite slow to start and very descriptive. As the novel went on it sped up, tossing more action into the plot and pulling back the curtain. There is going to be a sequel, seemingly set a bit closer to home, following a murder in a London printing press. It will be interesting to see how the characters gel in a less exotic location.