Victorian CSI – Room 000: Narratives of the Bombay Plague
by Marsha Perry, September 2015
In 1896 a plague epidemic struck the city of Mumbai, then called Bombay. Some estimates say that 1,900 people died every week from the illness. Room 000 brings that time to life.
Kalpana Swaminathan and Ishrat Syed are surgeons who write together under the nom de plume of Kalpish Ratna. Their medical degrees enable them to bring unique perspectives to this history of the Bombay plague.
Reading Room 000 is like entering the whirlwind of a time machine. There are so many things going on. There are unfamiliar names, exotic places, foreign customs, colonial politics, Victorian medical standards…then suddenly the time machine stops. During moments of crystal clarity the reader can experience beauty of India, the undercurrents of tension between British and Indian cultures as well as the scramble to find a cure for the illness spreading through the city.
I cannot stress strongly enough the fact that this book is not for the faint of stomach. The author does not sugar coat what it’s like to die from the plague or what scientists had to do to find the cause and cure. Let’s just say that there are body fluids aplenty.
This book is a high-stakes murder mystery filled with atmosphere and the day’s cutting-edge science. There are lovely Sherlockian touches like chapter headings that pay homage to Conan Doyle’s work. (The Engineer’s Thumb, The Copper Beeches and The Adventure of the Tired Captain are some examples.) The primary mood or theme is that of a Victorian CSI novel, although this is a CSI case that really happened.
Room 000: Narratives of the Bombay Plague is available at Amazon