My rating: 5/10. Workmanlike, but lacking any sort of the old Rumer Godden magic. If it were by any other author I would have set it aside unfinished, but as the celebrated writer’s last published work, I felt the need to see it through to the end. Not recommended, except to those wishing to round out their Godden collection.
Publisher’s Weekly Review, November 1997:
Based on a real incident that occurred a decade ago, this assured novel by 89-year-old Godden (Black Narcissus, etc.) concerns a sensational case brought by the Hindu god Shiva, “acting through the government of India,” against a wealthy Canadian, Sydney Carstairs Cromartie, who buys a small, 11th-century bronze statue of Shiva in Toronto. Cromartie takes the figurine to a highly reputable London art dealer, where a staff member informs the Indian government that the priceless artifact has likely been stolen. The partners in a prestigious set of chambers in London’s Inns of Court overcome their fear of appearing ridiculous and assign the case to young Michael Dean, who was born and raised in India. Dean returns to his homeland to investigate and stays at Patna Hall, a quaint beachfront hotel in South India, seen before in Godden’s Coromandel Sea Change. Although Dean soon falls for a visiting archeologist, love is not allowed to get in the way of the pursuit of justice; the denouement, however, brings one of the lovers a broken heart. Liberally dabbed with local color, the book is fast-paced–so much so that its concise prose sometimes seems hasty, its simple characterizations verging on the glib. Yet Godden’s fans will probably welcome yet another of this veteran novelist’s tales of India.
I am definitely a Godden fan, but I like to think that this designation does not blind me to the fact that her output can be, on occasion, charitably described as uneven. When she’s good, she’s very, very good,but when she’s bad … well, you know the rest of that tagline.
This book, her last adult novel, and indeed her last published work of any sort, was written at the very end of her long career. Though it is more than competently written, it feels sadly stiff and flat. I did not care for a single one of the characters; they moved behind a wall of smoked glass, with occasional glints of sparkle and colour, but nothing more. The ending was dreadfully contrived, like something out of one of Agatha Christie’s lesser efforts. I can’t help but feel the author shipped this one off to the publisher with a sigh of relief before turning to the fireside and tea-tray, much deserved after so many industrious years. Rumer Godden died a year after the publication of Cromartie v. The God Shiva, at the venerable age of ninety.
I will be reading Coromandel Sea Change, in order to compare the two. Godden refers to that work as the “Siamese twin” of Cromartie, sharing the setting and some of the characters, but diverging in plot. I have heard that Coromandel is the better book. I hope that this is true. I readily forgive Godden and allow her the odd miss, but I’m not going to hide my disappointment about this one.