The Mysterious Mr Jacob: Diamond Merchant, Magician and Spy by John Zubrzycki

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Title: The Mysterious Mr Jacob: Diamond Merchant, Magician and Spy

Author: John Zubrzycki

Genre: Non-fiction, biography

Publisher: Transit Lounge

Published: 1st April, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304 plus 8 page illustration insert

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: It was a scandal that rocked the highest echelons of the British Raj. In 1891, a notorious jeweller and curio dealer from Simla offered to sell the world’s largest brilliant-cut diamond to the fabulously wealthy Nizam of Hyderabad. If the audacious deal succeeded it would set the merchant up for life. But the transaction went horribly wrong. The Nizam accused him of fraud, triggering a sensational trial in the Calcutta High Court that made headlines around the world.

The dealer was Alexander Malcolm Jacob, a man of mysterious origins. After arriving penniless in Bombay in 1865, he became the most famous purveyor of precious stones in princely India, and a confidante of Viceroys and Maharajas. Jacob also excelled in the magical arts. He inspired all those who met him, including Rudyard Kipling who immortalised him as Lurgan Sahib, the ‘healer of sick pearls’, in his novel Kim.

Now for the first time, John Zubrzycki, author of The Last Nizam, conveys the page-turning colour, romance and adventure of Jacob’s astonishing life. Starting on the banks of the Tigris in modern-day Turkey where Jacob was born, Zubrzycki strips away the myths and legends. He follows Jacob’s journey from the slums of Bombay, to the fabulous court of the Nizam of Hyderabad, from the hedonistic heights of Simla, the summer capital of the Raj, to the Calcutta High Court. This is a story of India, of strange twists and unexpected outcomes. Most importantly Zubrzycki enters into and truly captures the spirit of the mysterious Mr Jacob, one of the most enigmatic and charismatic figures of his time.

~*~

The story of Alexander Malcolm Jacob is one that I did not know until I read John Zubrzycki’s book about him. Following his life in India and the surrounding area, The Mysterious Mr Jacob reveals how Alexander Malcolm Jacob arrived in India, and gradually, grew his diamond trade, using his activities to spy on everyone and report back to various contacts who were often enemies, gaining the best price he could for the diamonds, and following a path that incorporated aspects of magic into his faith. However, these nefarious activities come to a crashing halt in 1891, when Mr Jacob faces fraud charges, and a trial in the Calcutta High Court that would make worldwide headlines.

Alexander Malcolm Jacob’s story is one of mystery and intrigue, in a land that has been written about as an exotic mystery by authors such as Rudyard Kipling, at a time when the mysteries of India were looked at through a lens obscured by fascination of another world, different to the one most British subjects of Victorian England knew. It is also set against the back drop of the British Empire of the nineteenth century that had a far reach across the world, including towards India, and during the time Mr Jacob was operating, Queen Victoria proclaimed herself Empress of India, and took possession of the Koh-I-Noor Diamond.

Jacob’s world at one point is destined to become larger, as a friend invites him to London, where he will have the chance to meet Queen Victoria, and gain citizenship, but his choice to remain behind furthers his career, and ultimately, leads to the 1891 trial with an outcome that most at the time would not have seen coming, and that leads into Jacob’s isolated future until his death in 1921, aged seventy one.

More than just non-fiction, John Zubrzycki’s work is a narrative history, where Jacob’s world is revealed in rich and vivid descriptions, and contrasted against the modern India that the author visited whilst writing the book. We get a vision of two worlds: one trapped by an imperialistic empire forging its own identity in a modern world – through the eyes of Alexander Malcolm Jacob as he traverses India and the surrounding countries in search of diamonds.

It is an intriguing read, and was a surprise addition to my review stack from Transit Lounge and Quikmark Media. The victors and winners, or the figures that become well known write most history. There are some events and figures in history that are famous in spite of the failures, such as Bonnie Prince Charlie and Culloden. It is rare to find stories such as Alexander Malcolm Jacob’s in history books. Books such as John Zubrzycki’s bring to light the stories of lesser known but just as fascinating events and people, and show the diversity of these figures in their backgrounds, their personalities and the lives that they led.

Booktopia

The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown by Vaseem Khan

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Title: The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown

Author: Vaseem Khan

Genre: Crime

Publisher: Mulholland Books, an Imprint of Hachette

Published: 10th May 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The delightful second novel in the Mumbai-set Baby Ganesh Detective Agency series. When the Koh-I-Noor diamond is stolen from an exhibition of the crown jewels only one man (and his elephant) can crack the case…

For centuries the Koh-I-Noor diamond has set man against man and king against king. Now part of the British Crown Jewels, the priceless gem is a prize that many have killed to possess.

 

 

So when the Crown Jewels go on display in Mumbai, security is everyone’s principal concern. And yet, on the very day Inspector Chopra goes to see the diamond, it is stolen from under his nose in a daring and seemingly impossible heist.

 

 

The hunt is on for the culprits. And when an old friend stands accused, Inspector Chopra takes on the case. With sidekick baby elephant Ganesha in tow, Chopra soon realises that there is more at play than a simple case of greed.

 

~*~

 

Inspector Ashwin Chopra (Retd) and his baby elephant, Ganesha, return in the fabulous follow-up to The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra. When the Koh-I-Noor Diamond from the Crown Jewels is stolen from under Chopra’s nose, he must find out who stole it and return it to the right people. Together with Ganesha, Chopra starts his investigation, whilst running a restaurant for cops, where young Irfan works, and his wife, Poppy, recruits his associate detective, Rangwalla, to investigate the theft of a bust and exam papers at a school she works at. These storylines complement each other and run alongside each other neatly. Detectives from England, Bomberton and the young Scot, McTavish, assist Chopra – working together, these characters bring the worlds of Great Britain and Mumbai together. United by the desires and need to find the missing jewel that connects their two countries, Bomberton and Chopra forge a relationship to achieve these goals.

Ganesha becomes involved in tracking down the diamond and gaining access to the homes of certain high-up criminals who have an interest in having the diamond – and his unique position and abilities as an elephant are soon catching the attentions of various people who wish him harm. As in the first book, Ganesha will have none of this, and when separated from those he loves, will do all he can to find them – even if it means going without his Cadbury’s chocolate for a while!

Vaseem Khan has created a multi-layered world of Mumbai and India, with honest people like Chopra, Poppy and Irfan, dishonest people like Bulbul Kanodia, the characters disillusioned with everything who pop up and try to stamp down the kindness, or those who are simply caught in the cross-fire like Chopra’s friend, Garewal. Amidst the deception, and helping those who have been wronged like Garewal, blamed for things they never did, Chopra and Ganesha’s relationship – man and elephant – never falters. They are loyal to each other. In a world where good and evil are not always defined, where money talks and honesty may not be valued by many of the characters Chopra encounters, Chopra and Ganesha, and Poppy show that honesty and bravery, with perhaps a little trickery when necessary, can win the day and solve the most pressing cases for the Baby Ganesh Investigation Agency.

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra

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Title: The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra (Book One of the Baby Ganesh Agency Series)

Author: Vaseem Khan

Genre: Crime Fiction

Publisher: Mullholland Books/Hodder

Published: 11th August, 2015 (first edition), 23rd February 2016 (B-Format)

Format: paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Mumbai, murder and a baby elephant combine in a charming, joyful mystery for fans of Alexander McCall Smith and Harold Fry.

 

On the day he retires, Inspector Ashwin Chopra inherits two unexpected mysteries.

 

The first is the case of a drowned boy, whose suspicious death no one seems to want solved.

 

And the second is a baby elephant.

 

As his search for clues takes him across the teeming city of Mumbai, from its grand high rises to its sprawling slums and deep into its murky underworld, Chopra begins to suspect that there may be a great deal more to both his last case and his new ward than he thought.

 

And he soon learns that when the going gets tough, a determined elephant may be exactly what an honest man needs…

 

~*~

Inspector Ashwin Chopra has spent his whole life as a police officer on the streets of Mumbai. He is forced into early retirement, on the same day a case that nobody wants to solve tumbles onto his desk. When he arrives home, he is greeted with a baby elephant, willed to him by his Uncle Bansi. Chopra at first is at a loss, as he studies elephants and starts to care for the elephant, whilst solving the murder nobody wanted to touch. As Chopra and his baby elephant, christened Ganesha, investigate the murder, they are pulled into a dark underworld of Mumbai that heralds danger and secrets that many have worked to keep hidden from Chopra, one of the most respectable Inspectors on the local police force. Ganesha soon proves what he can do, and lives up to the letter from Uncle Bansi about him, and the fact that he is no ordinary elephant.

 

It was the baby elephant image and the intriguing title that drew me to this book, and reading the blurb on the back, I knew I had to read it. Vaseem Khan has created an India that is beautiful and dangerous, that acknowledges the good and the bad, and where each character has layers. Chopra is a straight-laced officer, abiding by the law, and quite shocked when he receives Ganesha. His growth across the novel sets up nicely for the second novel. While Chopra is preoccupied with his private investigations with the aid of Inspector Rangwalla, and of course, Ganesha, his wife, Poppy, is trying to help family, and formulating a plan to help them, fighting Mrs Subramanium about Ganesha and other issues that impact their complex. Through these characters, their lives and the events that occur and intersect throughout the novel, Vaseem Khan explores views on class and the individual, and certain expectations, and the divide between modern India and a more traditional India – he is creating a world where the two intersect magnificently and where each tries to find a compromise with the other to make it work. The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra has a lovely balance of light heartedness, humour and shadows that threaten the characters, and Vaseem Khan carries off the balance in a similar way to Alexander McCall-Smith and Precious Ramotswe in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. Like Precious and Mma Makutsi, Chopra is tasked to investigate missing husbands or children, or financial affairs, or to look at a case from an angle the police may not have thought of. Reading this book was a joy, Ganesha’s love of Cadbury’s Milk Chocolate was adorable – as Bansi’s letter said: he is no ordinary elephant. A great read for fans of Alexander McCall-Smith, cosy crime or just a good book.