The Tree Bears Witness: A Birbal Mystery — by Sharath Komarraju
Price: Rs. 350 INR(paperback), Rs. 147 INR(Kindle Edition)
Buy here: https://amzn.to/2VAYIhN
Barely a month has passed since the royal wedding of Emperor Akbar to the legendary Jodha, when the new queen’s brother, Sujjamal, is found murdered in the palace gardens. With his honor and reputation at stake, Akbar asks his trusted adviser Birbal to solve the mystery. The murder has taken place in a garden, at a spot between two mango trees, and the two guards who are eyewitnesses have conflicting versions of what could have happened. Was it suicide? Was it Akbar himself who ordered the killing or was it the Rajputs who accompanied Sujjamal, his uncles and cousin, who are guilty?
Set in a period that has been described as the golden age of the Mughals, the novel draws us into the royal court of Agra, abuzz with political intrigue, personal enmities and hidden rivalries, where everyone is a suspect until proven otherwise.
About the author
Sharath Komarraju is an author of fiction and nonfiction based in Bengaluru, India. His best known work (to date) is the Hastinapur series, in which he speaks into the silences of the Mahabharata story through the voices of the epic’s many women characters. His first novel, Murder in Amaravati, was longlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize, 2013.
Once a software engineer, he now tells stories full-time. When he is not writing or reading, he can be found watching cricket on television, talking to his wife, or munching on the nearest chocolate bar.
My take on this book
The book starts with the death of Prince Sujjamal of Amer in mysterious conditions in Agra while he was guest at Emperor Akbar’s palace, shortly after Akbar’s marriage with the Rajput princess Hira Kunwari. The death has only two royal guards as partial witnesses to the happenings. Of course, there is the mango tree in the orchard under which Sujjamal was found dead, which stands lone witness in the otherwise suspicious circumstances. Birbal, the trusted minister of Emperor Akbar is on a mission to crack this mystery.
Birbal sets about speaking to everyone who seems to be involved or have been around on the fateful night, starting from the guards, to the Emperor, to his queen and her family who were staying in Agra as guests. There is also the old Begum who keeps dropping clues to Birbal on the way. There are testimonials from people who have examined the dead body to those who chance upon some important clues.
Akbar-Birbal have been interesting characters for kids over the years for folklore stories. In this book, the writer takes the same characters and weaves a suspense story around them. The writing is simple and easy flowing, with the book being a quick read. There are clues left along the narrative and if the reader is an avid suspense genre lover, then the climax can be easily guessed. The writer provides only the right amount of description of the times of the Moghuls and doesn’t go overboard. The book also gives good insights into how crimes were investigated in past years. It is also interesting how the tree finally provides the much needed clue when all other witnesses seem to cause confusion. There are some loose ends which fail to make sense but if they can be ignored, the book makes for a good one time read.