Tuesday, 4 December 2018

New Release Spotlight & Excerpt: A Greater God by Brian Stoddart

A Greater God by Brian Stoddart
Paperback: 362 pages
Publisher: Selkirk International Pty (30 Nov. 2018)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0648393801
ISBN-13: 978-0648393801

Superintendent Chris Le Fanu returns to Madras from Penang where he leaves his new Straits Chinese love interest, Jenlin Koh, and a tempting new post in police intelligence there. He finds Hindu-Muslim tension on the rise in Madras, and his friends and subordinates Mohammad Habibullah and Jackson Caldicott at loggerheads as a result. A series of Muslim murders around the Presidency adds more tension. Le Fanu's arch enemy, Inspector-General Arthur "The Jockey" Jepson is reacting recklessly to the new conditions, then Le Fanu has to travel to Hyderabad where his former housekeeper and lover Roisin McPhedren is seriously ill. Le Fanu swings between his personal and professional challenges as a gang of revolutionaries and Hindu nationalists from North India travel south to aggravate the troubles. Le Fanu and Jepson clash head-on as the latter causes several policemen to be killed, and Le Fanu is losing support because his main civil service protectors are leaving Madras. Just as he seems close to overcoming all these problems, news arrives that Jenlin Koh is on board a ship reported missing near Ceylon. How will Le Fanu cope?


As the shimmer on the horizon resolved into Madras city’s coastline, Le Fanu wondered yet again if his return was wise, having left Penang reluctantly with only unpleasant prospects awaiting here. And this voyage back across the Bay of Bengal to India on the SS Ekma was joyless, unlike the one out to the Straits Settlements on which he met Jenlin Koh. The following weeks had passed in a blur, but now here he was while she remained in Penang – ‘The Pearl of the orient’ – expecting to visit Madras sometime but with no date fi xed. Would his life ever be straightforward?

Oddly, though, leaning on the rail and watching the city loom up was still somehow like coming home. He should have expected that. Madras had been his home for twenty years, since 1905, apart from the five away at what he could never call the ‘Great’ War. He was comfortable here. His British memories involved family strains, unhappy experiences and a failed marriage. India had certainly changed since his arrival but, despite rising calls for political independence, Gandhi’s mass civil disobedience campaigns, British India’s obdurate response and his own allegiances being challenged by a growing sympathy for India’s cause, the place still mesmerised him.

He picked out the wharves and buildings in what was now one of India’s largest ports. That was a big British achievement in the south. In earlier days, ships were serviced by small lighters that pitched up directly onto 2 A Greater God the sands. The nineteenth-century Charles Hunt prints gracing most Madras mansions depicted boats, crew and luggage tossed by the waves, passengers struggling to reach land both dry and in style. Madras had no natural harbour. Storms smashed piers and enclosures, tides and currents silted entrances in the first attempts to create one. However, Sir Francis Spring’s rule at the turn-of-the-century Madras Port Trust transformed everything.

In true British style, he also established the elitist Royal Madras Yacht Club in the harbour precinct, an incongruous Cowes on the Bay. Another attempt to make India something it was not.

The city’s smells and sounds increasingly filtered across on the breeze as the Ekma eased closer. Ahead, Le Fanu glimpsed the upper levels of Fort St George, Britain’s south Indian power base ever since Sir Eyre Coote saw off the French in 1761. These days it housed the Secretariat for the Madras Presidency whose forty-three million inhabitants matched the United Kingdom’s entire population. He would visit there later today and confront the Indian Civil Service mandarins.

Away on the left stood the Chepauk Palace, built by the Muslim Princes of Arcot but stolen mid-nineteenth century by the British. The Board of Revenue skulked there now, tax gatherers who fancied themselves above the Secretariat bosses. The mutual disdain between these two forces was legendary. Le Fanu hoped not to appear at Chepauk anytime soon, or before First Member Arthur Jamieson.

To the right, First Line Beach and the great trading firms that flourished on the ocean trade spurred by Spring’s harbour. Behind those imposing buildings lay George Town proper. Until 1911 it was called Black 3 Brian Stoddart Town, as in ‘home of the blacks’ even though Indians were not black. The British Empire’s ruling classes applied that term automatically to all non-whites everywhere. Le Fanu knew too many police and civil service officers who held that view – recusants all, irked, outraged and challenged by rising demands that Indians receive more political power and by London’s reluctant, cautious agreement. Madras Europeans were among India’s most vociferously conservative, a further source of his rising discomfort.

More cheerfully, he would soon visit Acharappan Street and his chef friend Krishna Rao who ran the city’s best Udipi restaurant. Penang’s south Indian food was excellent. So were its Chinese and Malay counterparts and all the hybrids. But he had missed his friend’s fare.

Brian Stoddart is a writer of fiction and non-fiction who is now based in Queenstown, New Zealand. Born and educated a Kiwi he has worked around the world as an academic, university executive, aid and development consultant, broadcaster,commentator and blogger.

He works as an international higher education consultant and has worked on programs in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Syria and Jordan as well as in the UK and USA. This work follows a successful career as university researcher, teacher and senior executive which culminated in a term as Vice-Chancellor and President of La Trobe University in Australia where he is now an Emeritus Professor. That academic career took him all over the world including long periods in India, Malaysia, Canada, the Caribbean, China and Southeast Asia.

He has written extensively on sports history, politics and culture as well as on India and south Asia in which field he completed his PhD. 

Most recently he has begun writing on his contemporary experiences, beginning with his life in an old house in the Old City of Damascus immediately before the upheavals of 2011-12. 

He is now also a crime novelist. A Madras Miasma was the first in a series of books set in 1920s Madras in India, and featuring Superintendent Chris Le Fanu. The Pallampur Predicament was the second and A Straits Settlement has appeared in 2016 as the third.

He also writes extensively for mainstream and new media as well as expert commentary for press, radio and television. Brian is also a cruise ship lecturer, specialising in international affairs and history.

In his spare time, he enjoys photography, reading (especially crime fiction),travel to new places, and listening to music, especially gypsy jazz