Women Sleuths in
Historical Mysteries

North West Indian Frontier


The Damascened Blade

by Barbara Cleverly

In this story in Cleverly’s Joe Sandilands mystery series, two female characters play pivotal roles. While Joe, a Commander in London's Metropolitan Police, is visiting an old friend at Gor Khatri, a British military fort just outside Peshawar in India's North-West Frontier (now part of Pakistan), a sensitive murder occurs. Major Zeman Khan, in service with the Amir of Afghanistan and important son of a tribal chief, is murdered within the fort. Joe is quickly tasked with finding the perpetrator.

Complications arise when American heiress Lily Coblenz arrives on her quest to see the 'real' India. Fortunately, Lily turns out to be an energetic, tough, young woman whose insights and adventuresome exploits help find the reasons behind Zeman’s death. There also is Grace Holbrook, a well respected medical doctor, whose years in the region have earned her the trust of the local population. Able to dialogue with the tribes, she produces useful strategies to help extradite the British from this “damned awkward situation.”

Divisions among the Westerners on this last frontier of the British Empire are apparent. Some favor an extension of Britain’s “Forward Policy,” defending British presence as a way to keep the Russians at bay. Others see that the only way to assure peace is to withdraw to the Indus River. And others simply seek business opportunities, making whatever deals they can.

Throughout, the author acknowledges the tensions between the British and the fiercely independent Pathan. Then referred to as “this last bloody frontier,” the region today still remains an uncertain battle zone. As one character notes: “Bad country for humankind. Brings out the best but it brings out the worst as well. ....What are we all doing here? It isn’t a country worth fighting for. "



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