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Nilima RaoAnmeldelser

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Sergeant Akal Singh has been transferred to Fiji from Hong Kong, and it's not a good sign for his career. Fiji in 1914 has all the hallmarks of a British colony, with racism the accepted norm and labor by indentured workers brought over from the poorest parts of India. Slavery has been abolished, but this is little different.

Singh is grudgingly assigned to the case of a 'coolie', as the indentured are referred to, who has disappeared. It would have gone unnoticed except for a local priest contacting the newspaper, to insist it was a kidnapping, and now the police must find a way to resolve it as quickly as possible. But when Singh gets to the sugar cane plantation, things are not what they seem.

An interesting first book from an author who has researched family roots in the same time and place, and is appalled by the poverty of both India and Fiji.
ffortsa | 8 andre anmeldelser | May 16, 2024 |
#ReadAroundTheWorld. #Fiji

Disappearance in Fiji is the debut of a mystery series by Fijian Indian Australian author Nilima Rao. It is an engaging story featuring a likeable hero: Indian police sergeant Akal Sing, who has recently been transferred to Fiji from Hong Kong to what he considers a backwater post.

Akal is soon sent to solve a missing persons case, or more accurately hush it up, when an Indian female plantation worker goes missing. The mystery soon ratchets up and exposes all the cracks in 1914 colonial Fiji with its racism, dirty secrets and terrible treatment of its Indian workers.

This was a great debut that not only got the reader involved in solving the crime but also gave much insight into Fiji’s colonial history and culture. I’ll definitely look out for another of this author's books.
mimbza | 8 andre anmeldelser | Apr 7, 2024 |
A delightful mystery, and historically fascinating. It takes place in Fiji, where a Sikh Indian police sergeant is sent, after a career failure in Hong Kong, to solve the mystery of a missing indentured coolie woman. Thus a collision of cultures and classes. I like the main characters, who are nuanced and believable. They navigate their own ambitions and blind spots and hopes in a believable and even beguiling way. The plot is complex and interesting.

I rated this book only 3 1/2 stars, however, because the “bad guys” were all a little flat, and portraying all the plantation owners as evil in a one-dimensional way makes the mystery less interesting, and almost predictable.

That’s a minor complaint, and one I suspect this author will get beyond in her next book. This book stands well as a nicely crafted mystery with excellent main characters, and important insights about a history and culture most of us knew nothing about. Recommended.½
bjellis | 8 andre anmeldelser | Jan 23, 2024 |
Set in colonial Fiji in 1914, this mystery novel takes readers to a time and setting with which most of us are not familiar, but the author certainly is.

An indentured Indian woman goes missing, and a local priest brings the attention of the newspapers to what he calls a kidnapping. Newly arrived from Hong Kong, Sergeant Akal Singh is already in trouble with his boss who reluctantly sets him to investigate the case. The last thing the Inspector wants is for the kidnapping claim to be true, and for his world to be rocked with scandal.

A very readable first novel.½
smik | 8 andre anmeldelser | Dec 18, 2023 |
A wonderful debut.................
A Disappearance in Fiji by Nilima Rao is a wonderful story which entertains you to the end. The storyline reveals the racist culture in plantations in Fiji which was really unnerving. Akal, our protagonist also a policeman faces racism during his investigations which was really astonishing for me. The mystery deepens and the readers are transported into a world of plantations and exploitation of women. Indeed, the story is focused on the conditions of women in Fiji during British rule. Akal's character rules the story, but other's are also good. A grasping plot with an unexpected climax is what I would like to define the book as. It was a pleasure reading the book.

Thanks to Netgalley and Rachel's Random Resources for providing me with an opportunity to read and review the book.
Sucharita1986 | 8 andre anmeldelser | Sep 11, 2023 |
Set in 1914, as punishment disgraced Sergeant Akal Singh is sent from Hong Kong to Fiji to investigate the disappearance of a young indentured Indian woman. Is she a runaway or has she been kidnapped? Or is it something more sinister!

I enjoyed this engaging historical mystery. I don’t think I’ve read a story set in Fiji before so it was lovely to visit such a colourful country. The descriptions of the landscape, the way of life, the characters and racism in a colony are vividly penned. It’s quite an eye opener in its way. The mystery itself is intriguing and I always wanted to turn the pages to read on. I liked the short newspaper snippets between the chapters - they give a good feeling and air of authenticity. Well written and put together, I found this a worthwhile and compelling, easy read. I look forward to Akal’s next adventure!
VanessaCW | 8 andre anmeldelser | Sep 7, 2023 |
In the author's notes at the back of A DISAPPEARANCE IN FIJI, Nilima Rao provides background to the thinking behind this novel, including the structure of the Indian indentured servitude program, established by the British overseen, Indian government, coming into its own when slavery was abolished. Why am I not surprised that this was yet another example of utter bastardry, arranging for Indian workers, desperate to improve their lives however marginally, to be sent to places like Trinidad, Jamaica, and Mauritius on fixed period contracts with working and living conditions that were utterly shameful. Why am I not surprised that this lead to sexual and physical abuse by ruthless plantation owners, and from 1879 to 1916, over 60,000 Indians being sent into slavery by another name in Fiji, with 30,000 remaining after their contract periods expired. Amongst those staying on were Rao's own great-grandparents.

Because of this background, and the extensive research she has done into the Indian population in Fiji, it should come as no surprise that this historical mystery is set in 1914 in Fiji, with a central protagonist of Sikh background, who comes to Fiji via Hong Kong (again an historical reference to the transfer of a team of 10 officers to build up the Fijian police force by the governor of Hong Kong, previously the governor of Fiji). It should also come as no surprise that the subject matter is the disappearance of a young Indian woman from a sugercane plantation. The only reason the case is getting any attention at all is because of the insistence of a local priest that the woman would never have just upped and ran away with the plantation supervisor, she must have been kidnapped. Which leads to media attention and some very grumpy acknowledgement that something needs to be seen to be done by white management of the police force. Enter, Sergeant Akal Singh. Recently arrived in Fiji after a scandal in Hong Kong, he's struggling to adapt to his new environment, new bosses who regard him with contempt (partially because of the eventually revealed scandal), and the whole indentured worker scheme.

To be honest, I doubt much of the outcome of the investigation by Singh, and the potential suspects and the eventual truth / guilty party(ies) are going to come as a big surprise to frequent readers of crime fiction. There's unpleasant people after all, and then there's huge arrows over a few people's heads labelled "not just a horrible person". Which in A DISAPPEARANCE IN FIJI isn't the downside that you'd expect - this is a novel about the process, serving more as a whydunnit and "how the hell could people condone it" than a whodunnit.

The story does move along at a good pace, and the writing is descriptive, with a real sense of place, time and weather to go along with Singh's discomfort and struggles. His backstory is well delivered, with again, lots of clues along the way that will leave the reader in no doubt of his motivations and failures when it comes to the scandal in his past. There are also some really well fleshed out supporting characters - from the doctor that guides him through the plantation reality, to a co-worker who has to balances traditional / familial expectations with the desire to be a fully fledged police officer.

The media release that came with the novel includes the observation:

"The exploitation of migrant workers continues today. ... I hope my novel provides a human face to such stories."

It seems there is a second novel in the series being worked on, so it will be particularly interesting to see the human faces that are revealed in it.
austcrimefiction | 8 andre anmeldelser | Jun 20, 2023 |
Nilima Rao's debut mystery A Disappearance in Fiji is as much a coming-of-age story as it is a mystery. Twenty-five-year-old Sergeant Akal Singh is very much a young man of his time. He's intelligent and hard-working, but incredibly naive in affairs of the heart, and he tends to view everyone he meets through his blinders of caste and personhood. His relationship with Inspector-General Thurstrom is a thorny one. Thurstrom lost his favorite police officer when the man enlisted to go fight in World War I. He knows the reason why Akal was sent to Fiji, and he'd just as soon the young man vanish in a puff of smoke, never to be seen again. The only bright spot in Akal's working life is twenty-six-year-old Taviti, the local chief's nephew, who longs to do some real police work instead of being stuck at the front desk of the station.

The scales begin to be removed from Akal's eyes when he goes to the sugarcane plantation with Dr. Robert Holmes. There Akal comes face to face with the brutal realities of the indentured workers' lives and the racism of the British colonialists in Fiji as he interviews white plantation owners, the Indian indentured laborers, and native Fijians.

Even though the mystery in A Disappearance in Fiji is rather easy to solve, the book is a vivid snapshot of a landscape and a time period. With Akal, Taviti, and Holmes, Rao has created a cast that grabbed my attention and makes me want to know more about them, to follow along as they solve more mysteries. And as for those mysteries, there is an unsolved one at the end of the book, and I'm looking forward to finding out if Akal and the others can learn the identity of the Night Prowler in the next book. Bring it on!

(Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Net Galley)
cathyskye | 8 andre anmeldelser | Jun 3, 2023 |
A Disappearance in Fiji is billed as an historical mystery. It is that—and quite good. It also offers a look into the multi-layered and dehumanizing elements of colonial-era racism. The mystery itself is built around the disappearance of a woman from a sugar cane plantation whose workers are all indentured Indians (as in India). They've traded five years (which usually turns out to be more than that because of contracts written to the employers' benefit) of unrelenting labor in exchange for the chance to attempt to build new lives in Fiji—lives which may, or may not, offer better chances of some small economic success than was possible in their home country. These indentures are facilitated because the British administer both India and Fiji, allowing the colonized to move from one colony to another, generally without much hope of improved lives.
The woman who has disappeared has a husband and daughter who have been left behind. Most people—the farm's owner, the woman's husband, pretty much everyone from Britain, and local politicians and police—are more than happy to assume she's run off with with an overseer who disappeared around the same time. A few people aren't so sanguine: a pastor who insists the woman would never have abandoned her daughter, that daughter herself, and police sergeant Akal Singh, who has been assigned the case. Sing makes for an interesting central character. He's originally from India and previously worked in the police force in Hong Kong. Now, because of a scandal at his previous workplace, he's been transferred to Fiji, where his supervisor dislikes him and opportunities for proving himself are limited. Added to this, Singh is Sikh, while almost all Indians living in Fiji are Hindu. The British view him as just another "coolie," an assumption he hates because it lumps him together with the many indentured workers on the Island and erases his position and history of work with the police force.
That's a longish précis, but these details are important. The novel is built around a mystery, but its real subject is the impact of colonialism, particularly its disrespect for the colonized people and the inevitable lumping together of the colonized, despite many differences in class, faith, and income. Singh is joined in his investigations by a British doctor who objects to the British treatment of Fijians and Indians, but who is also comfortable working within the colonial system and can ignore the worst of its abuses.
The combination of mystery and exploration of colonialism works well. The lack of interest in determining the fate of the missing woman provides a specific instance of the general British unwillingness to see the colonized as fully human. The miserable conditions under which the indentured work and live—workers' housing is large, poorly constructed and partially walled barracks in which each family is given only a single room to live, food is scarce and of limited nutritional value—are viewed by the British as perfectly reasonable for these "savages" being "civilized" through the benefit of colonization.
Sergeant Singh is an interesting character, disinterested in issues of equity and human rights, more focused on his own career path and his desire to return to Hong Kong as soon as possible. Assuming A Disappearance in Fiji is the first volume in what will become a series, Singh is clearly on the precipice of a personal awakening that will be every bit as thought-provoking as the plots of future mysteries themselves.
I received a free electronic review copy of this title from the publisher via Edelweiss; the opinions are my own.
Sarah-Hope | 8 andre anmeldelser | May 15, 2023 |
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