Granite Noir: Sturgeon and Mukherjee Open the Festival
by Darryl Peers
courtesy of Aberdeen Performing Arts
Never having read one of Abir Mukherjee’s books, I went to the impressively refurbished Music Hall for the opening event of Granite Noir with no expectations, ready to hear from a writer who, upon research, had piqued my interest. I was also, I must admit, keen to see the First Minister in person for the first time in my life. Early on, the tone was set, with Nicola Sturgeon greeting the crowd with a few jokes and careful to foreground her passion for reading rather than her politics. This was a warm and well-oiled opener to the Granite Noir festival. Hats off to APA on that front.
It is a considerable coup for the crime-writing festival in its third year of running that the First Minister came to open it, and it is heartening to see somebody in such high office extolling the virtues of reading and indeed supporting the event in person. However, the night was ultimately about Abir Mukherjee. This Scottish-Bengali writer drew warmth from the crowd early on as he told stories of his upbringing in Hamilton, previous career as an accountant in London, and turn to crime writing a few years ago. The conversation shifted from personal anecdotes about the time he had Val McDermid round for dinner and enlisted his mother’s help to impress her, to broader points about how his split heritage had informed the person and writer he is today.
His stories follow British detective Sam Wyndham in an India still colonised by the British Empire in the period immediately after the First World War. Wyndham forms an unlikely partnership with native “Surrender-not” Banerjee, and the books map the cases they take on together, starting with the murder of a senior British official in Calcutta. In the process, the novels confront some of the realities of Britain’s past as a colonial power which are not often discussed in the public sphere.
It was Scottish crime writer Josephine Tey who showed me that a crime novel can pack a lot more than the thrill of the chase; I look forward to taking on A Rising Man, now owning a signed copy of Mukherjee’s debut novel, in the near future. And there will be plenty more to read after that, with the fourth instalment in the Wyndham series due later this year.