Blood Moon Over Bengal, by Morag McKendrick Pippin

>> Wednesday, March 22, 2006

I would have bought Blood Moon Over Bengal (excerpt), by Morag McKendrick Pippin just because of its setting. I mean, how often do you get a romance novel set in 1930s India? But the storyline sounded interesting, too, kind of like one of those old MM Kaye Death In books.

Love the cover, BTW, even if the guy doesn't look anything like Nigel is described. It's attractive and it gives a very good idea of the feel of the book and of its physical and temporary setting.

Free-spirited and ultra-modern Elizabeth Mainwarring returned to the sultry, spice-scented land of her birth for one last go at mending the breach with her long-estranged sire. She met Major Covington-Singh, a prince and an officer in her father's regiment. The man was tall, dark, and utterly irresistible.

Yet there was peril in desiring him. He warned her against falling for a wog, a blacky-white, an Anglo-Indian. It might be modern times in England, but not in India. Even for the son of a duke and a maharaja. Why, even Elizabeth's father would disapprove! And then there were the recent happenings: the murders, the cruel strangling of those who were indiscreet.

For Elizabeth to love Nigel meant death. But she couldn't stop, even if there was a…

I'm giving this one a very, very qualified recommendation. I had many issues, especially with the characterization and the writing, but the vivid setting and a romance suspense subplot that became ok in the second half of the book, made up for it for me. A B-.

It's 1932 and heiress Elizabeth Mainwarring decides to have a go at reconciling with her estranged father before continuing on her way to her newly-inherited oil-rich sheep station in New Zealand. So off Elizabeth goes in her airplane to Calcutta, where her father holds an important military post.

The first person she meets when she crash-lands in the middle of a parade ground is officer Nigel Covington-Singh, son of an Indian maharaja and the English daughter of a duke. Elizabeth and Nigel are immediately very attracted to each other, but even with Nigel's very high birth, interracial relationships are still a no-no in British India.

Adding to the tension is the fact that Calcutta is being terrorized by a serial killer, who, after some murders among the Indian population (which no one paid much attention to), has started targeting British women, especially those who dare have contact with men of a different race. The investigation into the killings falls to Nigel, who needs to find the truth between huge pressures to find an (Indian) culprit and fast, and the need to protect Elizabeth as their relationship develops, because this makes her a prime target for the killer.

Pippin is a new author and I think that even if I hadn't known that as I started the book, I would have figured it out. There's just a certain awkwardness there, especially in the initial sections of the book. I think my main problem was with the characterization, with how most characters felt like caricatures, rather than like real people. Their reactions were way over-the-top, and the dialogue felt stiff.

Also, for all that I found Pippin's portrayal of her setting and her exploration of the main issues of the time fascinating (and, in fact, I thought this was the very best thing about the book), I can't deny that at times, this just wasn't naturally integrated into the story. Sometimes (and especially at the beginning of the book) you could see the author's hand very clearly, as she introduced characters solely for the purpose of expounding at length about this or that, whether it was believable or not that they would do so, usually using slang that felt self-conscious to me.

The romance didn't start out well, either. I very much liked Elizabeth, but at first, I just couldn't "get" Nigel. My first impression of him was that he was a seriously angry man, and it got tiresome after a while, even if I do wholeheartedly agree that he had reason to be angry. Just not at Elizabeth! I also got tired of the constant miscommunication between them, with each time and again assuming the worst possible interpretation of the other's behaviour. Did Elizabeth not throw herself at Nigel the minute he made an advance at her? Why, she's obviously disgusted because he's Anglo-Indian!

Plus, there's a whole lot of telling and not showing in the romance. We're told about how Nigel is sooooo lusting after Elizabeth, but it's just that: told. I didn't feel it, didn't feel I was being shown that.

This improved as the story advanced, though, and by the end of the book, both the suspense and the romance had acquired momentum and were proceeding very naturally and enjoyably. Nigel mellowed quite a bit, and I was finally able to understand him more, and I liked his pursuit of Elizabeth. As for Elizabeth, I especially appreciated how she was very much a creature of her time... a woman with certain aspects I recognized as modern, but with certain attitudes which would seem old-fashioned now.

Even with those problems I had with it, I found BMOB very promising. Pippin's new book, Blood Moon Over Britain, is out already, and though it's not related to this one at all, in spite of the title, it's got a setting that's just as unique: WWII Britain. I'm so getting it! Plus, Renée liked it!


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