THE TIGER AND THE RUBY: A Journey to the Other Side of British India by Kief Hillsbery

  • Written by  Mick Herron
  • Published in Books
THE TIGER AND THE RUBY: A Journey to the Other Side of British India by Kief Hillsbery
07 Aug
2017
Twenty-year-old Nigel Halleck – Kief Hillsbery’s many-times removed uncle – arrived in India in 1842 as an agent of the East India Company, and that was the last England saw of him. He died in Nepal in 1878, the whereabouts of his grave a mystery that Hillsbery is determined to solve

His researches reveal the practices of the East India Company itself, whose Hertfordshire training college was ‘notorious throughout England as a den of iniquity’, and whose ‘griffins’ – greenhorns – were dispatched to India with little idea of what to expect, and few abilities beyond ‘throwing half-eaten chickens across the table’ at dinner parties. Nigel, Hillsbery decides, was a cut above such talentless wasters, and sought ‘the real India’, whose essentials he quickly came to learn: ‘Life was hard, and many starved.’

This isn’t a history book – Hillsbery fictionalises his ancestor, providing imagined glimpses into his thoughts and feelings – but there’s much history unearthed all the same: ‘India is full of surprises,’ he notes, many of which involve mysterious deaths and hidden beauties; beheadings, blindings and servant girls made queens. Some of Nigel’s contemporaries are afforded brief biographies, which add up to a picture of a continent preparing to shrug off colonial rule, and Hillsbery’s own Asian travels are chronicled too, which, in the end, is what allows for a resolution of sorts to be reached. Because behind the rumours of jewel-smuggling, and secret moves in the everlasting Great Game, this is a love story at heart: if Nigel Halleck never returned, it was because he had found his home elsewhere. A moving and enjoyable read.

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