For book aficionados, Bharti Kirchner is a well-known author in the Pacific Northwest, who has published in a variety of genres from literary fiction to mystery novels and cookbooks. She is also a regular presence at book festivals and creative writing workshops. Kirchner’s previous mystery novels Tulip Season (2012) and Seasons of Sacrifice (2017) were set in the greater Seattle area, but her most recent, Murder at Andaman, takes her intrepid detective Maya Mallick to Port Blair in the Andaman Islands to solve a murder with connections to Seattle.
This novel is the second one featuring Maya who is a South Asian detective running an agency in Seattle with ties to a larger firm in Kolkata. Maya’s friends Lee and Rory take a trip to the Andaman islands, located in the Indian Ocean, just off the coast of Myanmar. Most of the Andaman and Nicobar islands are a union territory of India and many of them are inhabited by indigenous populations quite isolated from India and the neighboring countries. However, Port Blair, the capital, is now a popular tourist destination and the islands indigenous populations are at risk due to the tourist industry.
Rory, Maya’s friend, runs an independent publishing company focused on non-fiction that garners critical praise. Rory is murdered while on a trip to a literary festival in Port Blair, and Lee, Maya’s best friend, asks her to investigate the crime because the local police force is enmeshed in poor resources, inexperience and local politics. Maya take her assistant Hank and his girlfriend, Sophie, tags along with them, and the three work to solve Rory’s murder.
Maya brings both sophisticated investigating techniques and background knowledge about the victim and Indian culture to bear as she works her way through the city to untangle the mysteries of Rory’s life. She discovers his dark secrets as she investigates with the help of a network of taxi drivers, prostitutes, interpreters and other local folks to discover layers of intrigue on the island. She solves the murder, provides sanctuary to a prostitute and her child, saves a taxi driver from an attack, and uncovers the island’s tangled history with Japanese occupying forces during World War II. Along the way, the reader learns about the islands’ history, enjoys descriptions of landscape and food, and remains curious about what happens to Maya and her friends.
Kirchner’s novel is well-paced and engages the reader as a whodunit should. The Andaman setting offers readers a variation from the Seattle setting of the previous mysteries. The novel is a good choice for these times when we yearn to travel but are restricted to our homes.
As the Pacific Northwest winter sets in with a pandemic lockdown, this good mystery is one way to escape into another world albeit briefly.